Group Agency vs. Collective Agency:
A Matter of Point of View
Some philosophers are prepared to allow that a group of human beings can function as an individual agent, that deliberates and acts from a point of view of its own – a group point of view that is distinct from the points of view of its human constituents. These philosophers generally assume that if such a group agent were to emerge, its human constituents would still retain their status as individual agents in their own rights, each with a separate point of view. However, this assumption wrongly assimilates group agency and collective agency. Collective agency is by definition the agency of many; whereas, in cases of genuine group agency, a group of human beings comes to deliberate and act literally as one. The process by which this is accomplished cannot leave the points of view of the group’s human constituents intact as they were before. Either the process will absorb all of their agency and thereby obliterate the very distinctions between their points of view, or it will absorb a part of their agency and thereby occasion rational fragmentation within their human lives – a situation that is not entirely dissimilar to dissociative identity disorder, only it is not pathological. These points about group agency have profound implications for the issue of personal responsibility.
Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University.
Carol Rovane is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, where she has been honored with the Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching. She has authored numerous articles in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and action theory and value theory, as well as two books: The Bound Agency: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics and The Metaphysics and Ethics of Relativism.
8:30 PM @ Nitecap
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