Collective Agency: From Intuitions to Mechanisms (pdf)
Benoît Dubreuil & Benoît Hardy-Vallée
The debate on the nature of collective agency has been at the center of the philosophy of the social sciences for the last century. In recent years, philosophy of language has been the dominant approach to a debate that has often been reduced to the question of the legitimacy of interpreting collective agency on the basis of folk-psychological categories like belief and desire. In this article, we argue that the debate between individualists and collectivists is currently stagnating, but can be revived by a more empirically sensitive approach to agency. Understanding agents, collective or individual, requires an understanding of the mechanisms that bring about and maintain agency. Collective agents, we suggest, are legitimate constructs in social ontology, but their agency is special. Although they implement control mechanisms similar to that of individual agents, they do not have a conscious first-person point of view. Therefore, like individualists, we recognize the ontological salience of individual agency, and like collectivists, we recognize the soundness of collective agents. However, we reject the folk-psychological account of agency (shared by individualists and collectivists) and favor a mechanistic one.