I, Volkswagen

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Philosophers increasingly argue that collective agents can be blameworthy for wrongdoing. Advocates tend to endorse functionalism, on which collectives are analogous to complicated robots. This is puzzling: we don't hold robots blameworthy. I argue we don't hold robots blameworthy because blameworthiness presupposes the capacity for a mental state I call 'moral self-awareness'. This raises a new problem for collective blameworthiness: collectives seem to lack the capacity for moral self-awareness. I solve the problem by giving an account of how collectives have this capacity. The trick is to take seriously individuals' status as flesh-and-blood material constituents of collectives. The idea will be: under certain conditions that I specify, an individual can be the locus of a collective's moral self-awareness. The account provides general insights concerning collectives' dependence on members, the boundaries of membership, and the locus of collectives' phenomenology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-304
Number of pages22
JournalThe Philosophical Quarterly
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • blameworthiness
  • collective agency
  • collective responsibility
  • organisations
  • self-awareness
  • social ontology

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