Why Change the Subject? On Collective Epistemic Agency

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This paper argues that group attitudes can be assessed in terms of standards of rationality and that group-level rationality need not be due to individual-level rationality. But it also argues that groups cannot be collective epistemic agents and are not collectively responsible for collective irrationality. I show that we do not need the concept of collective epistemic agency to explain how group-level irrationality can arise. Group-level irrationality arises because even rational individuals can fail to reason about how their attitudes will combine with those of others. In some cases they are morally responsible for this failure, in others they are not. Moreover, the argument for collective epistemic agency is incoherent because reasons-for-groups are ipso facto reasons-for-individual. Instead of talking about reasons-for-groups, we should therefore distinguish between self-regarding reasons and group-regarding reasons. Both kinds of reasons are reasons-for-individuals. These conceptual considerations in favour of moderate individualism are strengthened by an analysis of our moral practice of responding to collective shortfalls of rationality and by the unpalatable moral implications of collectivism about epistemic agency. There is no need to change the subject. Groups can be rational or irrational, but they do not reason
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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