pp 1–15 | Cite as

Existence, really? Tacit disagreements about “existence” in disputes about group minds and corporate agents

  • Johannes HimmelreichEmail author


A central dispute in social ontology concerns the existence of group minds and actions. I argue that some authors in this dispute rely on rival views of existence without sufficiently acknowledging this divergence. I proceed in three steps in arguing for this claim. First, I define the phenomenon as an implicit higher-order disagreement by drawing on an analysis of verbal disputes. Second, I distinguish two theories of existence—the theory-commitments view and the truthmaker view—in both their eliminativist and their constructivist variants. Third, I examine individual contributions to the dispute about the existence of group minds and actions to argue that these contributions have an implicit higher-order disagreement. This paper serves two purposes. First, it is a study to apply recent advances in meta-ontology. Second, it contributes to the debate on social ontology by illustrating how meta-ontology matters for social ontology.


Social ontology Group minds Group actions Existence Verbal disputes Group agents Metaontology 



In writing this paper I benefitted from an early conversation with Daniel Nolan, discussions with Jesse Saloom, Sebastian Köhler and Ryan Cox, comments from two anonymous referees for this journal, and discussions at the European Congress of Analytic Philosophy (ECAP9).


  1. Armstrong, D. M. (2004). Truth and truthmakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asay, J. (2018). We don’t need no explanation. Philosophical Studies, 175(4), 903–921. Scholar
  3. Bratman, M. E. (2018). Review of from plural to institutional agency: Collective action II. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Accessed March 4, 2019.
  4. Cameron, R. P. (2008a). Truthmakers and ontological commitment: Or how to deal with complex objects and mathematical ontology without getting into trouble. Philosophical Studies, 140(1), 1–18. Scholar
  5. Cameron, R. P. (2008b). Truthmakers, realism and ontology. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, 62, 107–128. Scholar
  6. Cameron, R. P. (2010). How to have a radically minimal ontology. Philosophical Studies, 151(2), 249–264. Scholar
  7. Chalmers, D. J. (2011). Verbal disputes. Philosophical Review, 120(4), 515–566. Scholar
  8. Egerton, K. (2016). Getting off the Inwagen: A critique of quinean metaontology. Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy. Scholar
  9. Egerton, K. (2018). Found guilty by association: In defence of the Quinean criterion. Ratio, 31(1), 37–56. Scholar
  10. Egerton, K. (2019). It takes more than Moore to answer existence-questions. Erkenntnis. Scholar
  11. Epstein, B. (2007). Ontological individualism reconsidered. Synthese, 166(1), 187–213. Scholar
  12. Fine, K. (2001). The question of realism. Philosopher’s Imprint, 1(2), 1–30.
  13. Himmelreich, J. (2015). From individual to collective intentionality: New essays, edited by Sara Rachel Chant, Frank Hindriks and Gerhard Preyer. Oxford University Press, 2014, 225 pages. Economics and Philosophy, 31(3), 479–486.
  14. Himmelreich, J. (2017). The paraphrase argument against collective actions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 95(1), 81–95. Scholar
  15. Himmelreich, J. (2018). Agency and embodiment: Groups, human–machine interactions, and virtual realities. Ratio, 31(2), 197–213. Scholar
  16. List, C. (2016). What is it like to be a group agent? Noûs, 52(2), 295–319. Scholar
  17. List, C., & Pettit, P. (2011). Group agency: The possibility, design, and status of corporate agents. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ludwig, K. (2007a). Foundations of social reality in collective intentional behavior. In S. L. Tsohatzidis (Ed.), Intentional acts and institutional facts: Essays on John Searle’s social ontology. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  19. Ludwig, K. (2007b). Collective intentional behavior from the standpoint of semantics. Noûs, 41(3), 355–393. Scholar
  20. Ludwig, K. (2011). Adverbs of action and logical form. In T. O’Connor & C. Sandis (Eds.), A companion to the philosophy of action (pp. 40–49). Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  21. Ludwig, K. (2014). The ontology of collective action. In S. R. Chant, F. Hindriks, & G. Preyer (Eds.), From individual to collective intentionality: New essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ludwig, K. (2015). Is distributed cognition group level cognition? Journal of Social Ontology, 1(2), 189–224. Scholar
  23. Ludwig, K. (2017). Do corporations have minds of their own? Philosophical Psychology, 30(3), 265–297. Scholar
  24. Pettit, P. (2003). Groups with minds of their own. In F. F. Schmitt (Ed.), Socializing metaphysics: The nature of social reality. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  25. Pettit, P. (2009). The reality of group agents. In C. Mantzavinos (Ed.), Philosophy of the social sciences: Philosophical theory and scientific practice (pp. 67–91). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Quine, W. V. O. (1948). On what there is. The Review of Metaphysics, 2(5), 21–38.
  27. Quine, W. V. O. (1951). Ontology and ideology. Philosophical Studies, 2(1), 11–15. Scholar
  28. Quine, W. V. O. (1969). Existence and quantification. In Ontological relativity and other essays (pp. 91–113). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Rettler, B. (2016). The general truthmaker view of ontological commitment. Philosophical Studies, 173(5), 1405–1425. Scholar
  30. Rodriguez-Pereyra, G. (2015). Grounding is not a strict order. Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 1(3), 517–534. Scholar
  31. Roth, A. S. (2014). Indispensability, the discursive dilemma, and groups with minds of their own. In S. R. Chant, F. Hindriks, & G. Preyer (Eds.), From individual to collective intentionality (pp. 136–162). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rupert, R. D. (2005). Minding one’s cognitive systems: When does a group of minds constitute a single cognitive unit? Episteme, 1(03), 177–188. Scholar
  33. Rupert, R. D. (2011). Empirical arguments for group minds: A critical appraisal. Philosophy Compass, 6(9), 630–639. Scholar
  34. Rupert, R. D. (2014). Against group cognitive states. In S. R. Chant, F. Hindriks, & G. Preyer (Eds.), From individual to collective intentionality (pp. 97–111). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schaffer, J. (2008). Truthmaker commitments. Philosophical Studies, 141(1), 7–19. Scholar
  36. Schaffer, J. (2009). On What Grounds What. In D. J. Chalmers, D. Manley, & R. Wasserman (Eds.), Metametaphysics: New essays on the foundations of ontology (pp. 347–383). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Sennet, A., & Fisher, T. (2013). Quine on paraphrase and regimentation. In G. Harman & E. Lepore (Eds.), A companion to W.V.O. Quine (pp. 89–113). Oxford: Wiley. Scholar
  38. Sylvan, K. L. (2012). How to be a redundant realist. Episteme, 9(03), 271–282. Scholar
  39. Theiner, G., Allen, C., & Goldstone, R. L. (2010). Recognizing group cognition. Cognitive Systems Research, 11(4), 378–395. Scholar
  40. Van Inwagen, P. (2009). Being, existence, and ontological commitment. In D. J. Chalmers, D. Manley, & R. Wasserman (Eds.), Metametaphysics: New essays on the foundations of ontology (pp. 472–506). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Syracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

Personalised recommendations