, Volume 83, Issue 3, pp 517–538 | Cite as

The Moral Agency of Group Agents

  • Christopher Thompson
Original Research


Christian List and Philip Pettit have recently developed a model of group agency on which an autonomous group agent can be formed, by deductive inference, from the beliefs and preferences of the individual group members. In this paper I raise doubts as to whether this type of group agent is a moral agent. The sentimentalist approach to moral responsibility sees a constitutive role for moral emotions, such as blame, guilt, and indignation, in our practices of attributing moral responsibility. These moral emotions are important for the alignment of moral understandings, and for valuing other members of the moral community. I argue that while the intentional objects of beliefs and preferences are propositions, the intentional objects of moral emotions are other agents. Because agents are not subject to rules of inference, we cannot generate group agent emotions—such as guilt—in the same way as we can generate group agent beliefs and preferences. And because the group agents lack moral emotions, we have reason to resist treating them as moral agents.



I presented versions of this paper to the OZSW Conference, VU University Amsterdam (2015), the ‘Grundlegung’ research seminar, University of Groningen (2015), and the Hope and Trust Workshop, University of Frankfurt (2016). I am grateful for the comments received from audience members. I am also grateful for the comments received from Tony Booth, Boudewijn de Bruin, Katherine Hawley, Frank Hindriks, Jens van’t Klooster, Marco Meyer, Alex Oliver, Tom Simpson, and two anonymous referees.


The author was supported by postdoctoral funding from the NWO project ‘Trusting Banks’ (Project Number 360-20-310).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and EducationUiT – The Arctic University of NorwayTromsøNorway

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