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. Continue reading “Am I a Group Agent?”


Group Ontology and Nation States

The analytic debate on social ontology can sometimes be far removed from what happens in the social sciences, so I am happy to have found a potential overlap. I currently work on my upcoming group ontology talk. My talk will concern what the metaphysical limits of group membership.

Group membership is a pecular thing from the perspective of metaphysics. As has been argued by various authors (Uzquiano 2004, Effingham 2010, Ritchie 2013) it cannot be reduced to set membership or mereological parthood. My talk will hopefully reveal more about its ontological role.

But group membership might also play an important role in the history of European nation states. I presume the following (simplified) historical picture taken from or at least inspired by Charles Tilly’s Coercion, Capital, and European States: The European nation states grew out of numerous armed conflicts and outright wars. A large number of small municipialities, dukedoms, city-states and the occassional empire, fought against one another until those left standing became modern nation states.

To survive this selection process, the states had to draw as many resources as feasible from their population. To make the people willing to support the war, they had to be co-opted in one way or another. The states increasingly provided services to their population and offered them a voice – or perhaps one should say that without starting to listen to their subjects states could not acquire the resources they needed. Continue reading “Group Ontology and Nation States”

Talk in Milan: Homuncularism and Group Agency

As mentioned in a previous post, I will give a talk on homuncularism and group agency in Milan tomorrow. More information on the workshop, which is about cognition in groups, can be found on the website of the organisers.

There are two ideal types of talks: There are talks where you already have a full paper before you apply and then try to tour the world with your paper. And there are talks where you submit a vague abstract and then try to figure out what you are actually saying. My talk in Milan falls into the latter category. If you plan to attend and hope to hear me talk exactly about what I promised in the abstract, you are in for a disappointment. Continue reading “Talk in Milan: Homuncularism and Group Agency”

Workshop: Cognition in Groups

On the 31st of March I will present at a workshop in Milan on Cognition in Groups. My topic will be homuncularism and group agency. More specifically, I will talk about how the homuncularism objection might and might not apply to theories of group agency.

More information on the workshop and my talk can be found on the website of the organisers.


Published: Gruppen als Akteure

An essay of mine on group agency has been published on Soziopolis. Soziopolis is a platform for sociologists and other social scientists maintained by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. My essay tries to convey the relevant implications of theories of groups agency, especially the proposal by List and Pettit, for the social sciences.

The essay is in German, which limits its readership on the one hand, but on the other hand the analytic debate on group agency has received less attention there so far. I hope I can contribute to changing this.

The first paragraph:

Die Beschäftigung mit Fragen des Gruppenhandelns – etwa danach, ob Organisationen zielorientiert handeln, Klassen genuine gesellschaftliche Akteure sind oder Staaten Handlungsfähigkeit besitzen – hat in der Soziologie eine lange Tradition. Dabei ist jedoch umstritten, ob Gruppen als irreduzible Akteure tatsächlich dasselbe Gewicht für soziologische Erklärungen haben wie Individuen, insbesondere, ob Gruppen dieselbe irreduzible kausale Rolle einnehmen. Können die Handlungen von Gruppen also Tatsachen kausal erklären, ohne dass eine individualistische Reduktion auch nur im Prinzip möglich wäre?

More here.

Upcoming Talk: Corporations as Group Agents

Next week (on the 16th of June) I am going to present a paper on corporations as group agents at the 3rd International Conference Economic Philosophy in Aix-en-Provence. In the paper I am going to discuss the specific problems one faces when on tries to take corporations as group agents.

I am afraid that if you have not registered yet for the Conference, it is too late for that now. However, I hope that at some point my thoughts on this topic will have matured enough that they can be published.