Seminar Series in Analytic Philosophy, Session 15

Jennifer Lackey

Northwestern University

The Epistemology of Groups

21 February 2020, 16:00

Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa

Sala Mattos Romão (Departamento de Filosofia)

Abstract: Groups are often said to believe, know, and do things. For instance, we talk about the Catholic Church believing that the Pope is infallible, the U.S. government knowing that greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver of climate change, and Iran firing two missiles at a Ukranian passenger plane that crashed in Tehran. But how should we understand a group’s believing, knowing, or doing something? Two answers are generally given to this question. According to summativism, a group’s states or actions are understood simply in terms of the states or actions of individual members. In contrast, non-summativism holds that a group’s states or actions are over and above, or otherwise distinct from, those of its members. While I argue that neither view is, strictly speaking, correct, I also show that epistemic states and actions come apart in how much they depend on group members. In particular, there is a far tighter connection between what a group believes or knows and what its individual members believe or know than there is between what a group does and what its members do. This has important implications for our attributions of moral and legal responsibility to groups, such as corporations and institutions.