Being and Becoming in the Theory of Group Agency

Leo Townsend


Article Title: ‘Being and Becoming in the Theory of Group Agency’




This paper explores a bootstrapping puzzle which appears to afflict Philip Pettit’s theory of group agency. Pettit claims that the corporate persons recognised by his theory come about when a set of individuals ‘gets its act together’ by undertaking to reason at the collective level. But this is puzzling, because it is hard to see how the step such a collective must take to become a group agent – the collectivisation of reason – can be taken without them already being an agent. I explore this puzzle by recounting Pettit’s account of the emergence of group agents. According to Pettit this process has two stages: a first stage in which a collective incurs the distinctive pressure exemplified by the Doctrinal Paradox, and a second in which the collective responds to that pressure by instituting decision-making mechanisms designed to secure collective rationality. After arguing that this second, response stage in Pettit’s account is not coherent, I conclude with the tentative suggestion that the personhood of groups should be seen as depending not only on the efforts of group members but also on the recognitive attitudes of other persons in a wider discursive community.




social ontology; group agency; corporate persons; joint intention; bootstrapping; reciprocal recognition


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