The virtues and vices of collective moral agents

Duncan Martin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

In everyday speech, we sometimes ascribe moral virtues and vices to collections of individuals. Such ascriptions can be described as ‘collective virtue statements’. This thesis addresses the question of how to understand collective virtue statements, and the question of when, if ever, such statements can be true. It is organized as follows. Chapter 1 introduces the notion of minimal moral virtues and vices. A property P is a minimal moral virtue or vice if and only if: (1) P belongs to a morally responsible agent and (2) P is a moral character trait. Chapter 2 develops a new taxonomy of possible positions on the thesis’s central questions, which unifies the terminology employed by authors in the existing literature. On this taxonomy, possible positions can be distinguished by the extent to which they are committed to eliminativism (the view that collective virtue statements cannot be made true) or realism (the view that collective virtue statements can be made true). Chapters 3, 4 and 5, assess leading approaches to the thesis’s central questions, in light of the conditions of minimal moral virtue set out in Chapter 1, and the taxonomy of possible positions set out in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 focusses on approaches that characterise collective virtues as properties that are continuous with individual properties. Chapter 4 focusses on approaches that characterise collective virtues as group-specific individual properties. Chapter 5 focusses on approaches that characterise collective virtues as properties of groups. Across Chapters 3, 4 and 5, it is argued that: (1) no leading approach to collective virtue succeeds in satisfying the conditions of minimal moral virtue argued for in Chapter 1, (2) each approach faces additional objections that do not depend upon the success of the proposed conditions, and (3) no approach provides an adequate basis for a normative ethical theory, regardless of whether one accepts the proposed conditions. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 jointly offer a novel argument for the possibility of minimal collective moral virtues and vices. On this argument, some non-metaphorical collective virtue statements are not misconceived and not reducible to individual virtue statements because there are (logically possible) irreducible collective properties that meet both conditions of minimal moral virtue. Chapter 6 outlines this argument in detail and defends its least controversial premises. Chapters 7 and 8 defend the argument’s most controversial premise - the claim that there are (logically possible) irreducible collective properties that meet both conditions of minimal moral virtue. Chapter 7 argues that some collective properties meet the first condition (namely, the requirement that a property P is a moral virtue only if P belongs to a morally responsible agent). Chapter 8 argues that some collective properties meet the second condition (namely, the requirement that a property P is a moral virtue only if P is a moral character trait). Chapter 9 concludes the thesis. Essentially, if collective virtue and vice statements are understood as argued for in the thesis, then a carefully defined sub-set of collective virtue statements can be true.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Rush, Emma, Principal Supervisor
  • Uniacke, Suzanne, Co-Supervisor
  • Clarke, Stephen, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2022

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