Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Allison Weir

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


This dissertation examines the theories of collectivity or social grouphood presupposed by accounts of collective intentionality, collective action and collective moral responsibility. I consider the intentionalist theories of social grouphood proposed by John Searle and Margaret Gilbert, Larry May’s conceptual account of social grouphood, and Paul Sheehy’s realist conception of social grouphoood. All three approaches are found to be problematic. The theories of Searle and Gilbert fail to adequately explain the causal relationship between collectives and their members, the heterogeneity of social groups and non-voluntary social groups; May’s theory is problematic insofar as it relies on sameness among individual group members; and, as a consequence of his failure to recognize that the causal powers of a social group are mediated by, and thereby depend upon, the perspectives of individuals, Sheehy’s account is unable to explain non-voluntary social groups. A conception of social grouphood that is able to avoid these shortcomings is identified. However, it raises doubts about the possibility of collective agency, something that theories of collective action and collective moral responsibility tend to assume. Consequently, I explore whether collective action and collective moral responsibility require collective agency. Theories of collective action and collective moral responsibility that do not require collective agency have been proposed. These proposals conceive of collective action and collective moral responsibility as joint action and joint moral responsibility, respectively. I recommend a dialogical account of joint action that is consistent with the notion that only individuals can be agents and supports ascriptions of joint moral responsibility.

Convocation Year