Perspectives on Science seminar 8.4.

At the next Perspectives on Science seminar (8.4.) Säde Hormio  will present her paper entitled “Reactive attitudes towards collective agents”.

Perspectives on Science is a weekly research seminar which brings together experts from science studies and philosophy of science. It is organized by TINT, the Centre for Philosophy of Social Science at the University of Helsinki.

The seminar will be held in room 12 of the Main Building (Fabianinkatu 33) from 14-16.

Author’s bio:

Säde Hormio (Postdoctoral Researcher, Practical Philosophy & TINT) researches questions of collective responsibility, including what collectively caused harms we can be complicit in, or what is the nature of collective agency. She is also interested in questions to do with knowledge and ignorance in collective settings. For more information, see


It is not uncommon to make claims such as ‘corporations are responsible for using sweatshop labour to manufacture their products’, or that ‘governments should address climate change’. These are moral claims, as they often pre-date efficient legislation measures or go beyond the law. It is however not clear how collective agents can be morally responsible and how we should make sense of our reactive attitudes towards them. With collective agents I refer to integrated, structured, organised collectives that have a shared goal or purpose, a mission, an ethos, and which often also come with differentiated roles and hierarchy.

My question is can these kind of collectives be said to be moral agents, not just collective agents in either some loose or strict sense. The debate is not about collectives being nothing but the sum of their individual parts, but rather about moral agency conditions. Gunnar Björnsson and Kendy Hess (2017) have argued that if collectives are capable of agency, then they also satisfy the requirements of moral agency as they are capable of states sufficiently similar to guilt and indignation. Their solution is to conceptualise moral emotions in functionalist terms. What really matters “is not whether corporate agents can be exactly like human agents, but whether they can have the properties required for fully fledged moral agency” (p. 288). I want to find a way to conceptualise the moral responsibility of collective agents in a way that is closer to the literature on individual agency and responsibility (e.g. Shoemaker 2015), to bring the two debates closer to one another. More specifically, I will argue that we can have an account of collective moral responsibility that gets corporations on the hook just as much as the functionalist account, but that comes closer to our common sense morality and is simpler in its structure.