“Group Agency in the Real World” by John Matthewson (31 Jan)

Group agents are agents composed of parts that are themselves agents. In the book Group Agency, Christian List and Philip Pettit argue that such group agents ought to be included in the ontology of the social sciences. For example, they claim we can talk about the beliefs, preferences and even blameworthiness of a corporation (as opposed to just the members of that corporation), where this talk is at least sometimes literally true. List and Pettit extend these ideas, outlining ways in which group agents should be structured in order to meet particular norms of agency.

However, there is some tension between the book’s methodology and its purported findings. Many of the arguments presented in Group Agency involve formal treatments of highly idealised and abstract scenarios, the results of which are intended to secure claims regarding actual group agents. The use of such abstract scenarios is a well-established and effective research method in both philosophy and science, but complexities arise when we attempt to deploy this type of research in the real world. I will examine the extent to which these complexities might cause trouble for List and Pettit’s claims, emphasising the importance of how their formal models generalise across actual and possible cases.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 31 Jan 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: John Matthewson, Lecturer in Philosophy, School of Humanities, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker: 

John completed his PhD at the Australian National University in 2012 and is now a lecturer at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand. His thesis was regarding the use of scientific models, with a focus on the negative interactions that hold between certain desirable properties of these models. John works in philosophy of science, particularly scientific explanation and representation, as well as philosophy of biology and some applied ethics. He has a background in clinical medicine, and beginning in 2013 will be lucky enough to combine all of these interests working on a collaborative project in the philosophy of evolutionary medicine. He plans to eat a lot of food while in Singapore.