Am I a Group Agent?

Presumably not, but maybe it’s more difficult to tell than it seems.

Kirk Ludwig attended my recent talk at the ENSO V conference and raised an interesting issue during the Q&A. I argued against analysing being a group member as being a part of a group (plus a restriction to individuals). He suggested that there is an easier argument against analysing group membership as such a restricted parthood: Even if I had a part who was an agent, I would not be a group agent. Say it turned out that one of my body parts was an agent, this body part would not be a member of me and I would not be a group. At least that is what Ludwig proposed.

I tentatively replied that perhaps one might consider the body part a member after all and I might turn out to be a group, but Ludwig wasn’t swayed by my bold assertion and we left it there. After all, his point wasn’t threatening my argument. It only provided further support for my overall conclusion. Nonetheless, I keep thinking about Ludwig’s argument and I’m not sure I agree with him.

Consider the following example: After a thorough investigation, it turns out that my body is composed of and steered by hundreds of small entities. They exhibit the intelligence of large mammals, such as dogs or maybe even dolphins. It is not obvious to me that one shouldn’t say in this case that I’m a group agent. Why not? (In fact, if you buy into a weird version of Dennetian homuncular functionalism you might already think that we are all group agents!)

I’d be made of agents just as the philosophy department is (arguably, but I’m not going to argue for it here) made of agents. Just as the philosophy department I’d be composed and steered by individual agents. So, why shouldn’t we consider me a group agent? Sure, it would be a weird realisation, but then it would be a major scientific discovery! I would be surprised to be a group, but I don’t see why we should rule it out.

Ludwig’s example differed slightly from my case. He imagined that I would have only one part, who was an agent, while I considered the case of multiple parts being agents. But why should that take affect the overall conclusion? Generally, we allow groups with only one member. For example, if all members of the pragmatism reading group except for me graduated, the reading group would nonetheless persist. I would continue it and try to recruit new members. Likewise, why should I not remain a group, even if only one member was left?

These considerations make it seem plausible that if it turned out that one of my parts is an agent, I would be group. In the end, I reject the conclusion that I would be a group if one or multiple of my parts were agents, because I disinguish the parthood and the group membership relation. Even if I were composed of agents, I wouldn’t be a group, because parthood differs from membership. I would need a member and not a part who is an agent to become a group But we need an independent argument for my distinction. I provided the argument in my paper.


UPDATE [7th September 2017]:
I turned that I actually misunderstood Ludwig’s point. He suggested another argument which relying on questions about the transitivy of parthood and the intransitiy of membership (which I also argued for in my talk): Even if my hand was an agent, it would not be a member of the philosophy department. I’m much more willing to agree with this argument.