In the social sciences and in everyday speech we often talk about groups as if they behaved in the same way as individuals, thinking and acting as a singular being. We say for example that "Google intends to develop an automated car", "the U.S. Government believes that Syria has used chemical weapons on its people", or that "the NRA wants to protect the rights of gun owners". We also often ascribe legal and moral responsibility to groups. But could groups literally intend things? Is there such a thing as a collective mind? If so, should groups be held morally responsible? Such questions are of vital importance to our understanding of the social world.
In this lively, engaging introduction Deborah Tollefsen offers a careful survey of contemporary philosophers? answers to these questions, and argues for the unorthodox view that certain groups should, indeed, be treated as agents and deserve to be held morally accountable. Tollefsen explores the nature of belief, action and intention, and shows the reader how a belief in group agency can be reconciled with our understanding of individual agency and accountability.
Groups as Agents will be a vital resource for scholars as well as for students of philosophy and the social sciences encountering the topic for the first time.
Preface and Acknowledgements
1. Group Belief
2. Group Intention
3. Group Agency
4. Group Cognition
5. Interpreting Groups
6. The Moral Responsibility of Groups
?This eminently readable book does a great job on two fronts. It opens up the issues of joint intentionality, group agency, and collective responsibility, introducing readers to the many perspectives found in this rapidly emerging field, and it offers a fine, accessible statement of the distinctive views that the author herself has developed on those issues.?
Philip Pettit, Princeton University and the Australian National University
?In this outstanding new book, Deborah Tollefsen analyses group belief and agency while at each stage clearly articulating the relation between groups and individuals. She critically evaluates all the major philosophical theories of group cognition and develops her own novel, integrative framework anchored in our everyday practices of interpreting the actions of groups. Tollefsen?s accessible work has implications for ethics and the law, for psychology and for social theory, effectively bringing philosophy to life.?
John Sutton, Macquarie University
?Deborah Tollefsen is well versed in the contemporary philosophical debates about, to put it broadly, the mentality of groups. This book is a thoughtful and clearly written introduction to these debates. Tollefsen also offers her own perspective, one which engages with the notion of mentality itself.?
Margaret Gilbert, University of California, Irvine