We the people: Is the polity the state?

Stephanie Collins, Holly Lawford-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


When a liberal-democratic state signs a treaty or wages a war, does its whole polity do those things? In this article, we approach this question via the recent social ontological literature on collective agency. We provide arguments that it does and that it does not. The arguments are presented via three considerations: the polity's control over what the state does; the polity's unity; and the influence of individual polity members. We suggest that the answer to our question differs for different liberal-democratic states and depends on two underlying considerations: (1) the amount of discretion held by the state's officeholders; (2) the extent to which the democratic procedure is deliberative rather than aggregative.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2000015
Pages (from-to)78-97
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the American Philosophical Association
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • agency
  • collective intentions
  • group action
  • group agency
  • ontology

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