Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Rebecca Kukla

Co-Major Professor

Stephen P. Turner


Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, Ethics, Group Agency, Human Resource Management


Different kinds of collectives help to coordinate between individuals and social groups to solve distribution problems, supply goods and services, and enable individuals to live fulfilling lives. Collectives, as part of the process of socialization, contribute to the normalization of behaviors, and consequently, structure our ability to be self-reflective autonomous agents. Contemporary philosophy of action models characterize collective action as the product of individuals who have the proper motivations to perform cooperative activities (bottom-up); or they begin with the social-level phenomena and explain this in terms of individual actions and the mental states that motivate them (top-down). One general goal of this project is to show how and why both of these approaches through focusing solely on the individuals involved fail to capture and account for important types of group actions: those of economic group agents.

Group agents, one kind of organized collective, are unique in that they have the potential to develop group-level decision-making processes that result in the capacity of the group to engage in practical reasoning. Because of this capacity, group agents can be stable and respond to reason--capacities we would not expect from other kinds of collectives. Inasmuch as we value the possibility of influencing the reflexive dynamics that perpetuate social institutions, understanding the range of organization structures and their agential capacities will open up the possibility of altering the course of those dynamics toward more just systems of organization. Understanding what kinds of group agents currently operate within the systems of organizations that make up social institutions is the first step in determining how to move toward developing group agents that are also moral agents. By analyzing how different systems of constraint--inside and outside the firm--inform one another to influence the possibility of design and the group's possibilities for action, I use Christian List and Philip Pettit's account of group agency as a springboard to develop a more adequate account of how structure influences and constrains the possibilities of economic group agents in non-idealized circumstances (i.e. this world, with our history).

My chapters include 1) a taxonomy of organization structures and an analysis of how a narrow conception of organization structure in jurisprudence can lead to systems of constraint that limit the rights and freedoms of individuals even as it seeks to extend them, 2) an evaluation of the popular accounts of collective action (cf. Raimo Tuomela, 1997; Michael Bratman, 1993, 1997, 2009; and Christian List and Philip Pettit, 2011) that could be made to accommodate the actions of certain kinds of economic associations, 3) an exploration of the standards of evaluation that influence these powerful group agents, and how these standards limit the economic group agent's capacity to engage in moral reasoning, and 4) an analysis of the group agent's reasoning capacity and the internal mode of interaction between group agent and group members that perpetuate group agency.

I argue that we can understand group agents that have the capacity to be moral agents as the products of a particular kind of decision-making process within an organization's structure. The decision-making process, together with the organization structure and group member support, produces and sustains judgments and actions at the level of the group that cannot be reduced to the beliefs and actions of particular members. In this way, the group displays a systematic unity of actions based on its own judgments. That is, the group exhibits agency. Moral group agents exhibit more than practical reasoning; they also demonstrate the capacity for critical reflection upon the ends they pursue. Member buy-in promotes a tight connection between group members and their role in bringing about and sustaining group agency, and is the foundation of the group agent. Without a holistic organization structure, a member's personal identities could undermine group aims, thereby undermining group agency. Group moral agency, I argue, begins with promoting an organizational way of life conducive to collective flourishing and respect for members.