The moral significance of collective entities

Inquiry 44 (1):21 – 41 (2001)
The claim is that some collective entities can be thought of as part of the moral realm by virtue of their status as objects of moral concern. Collectivities are defined in terms of irreducibly corporate action and distinctive conditions of persisting identity. Their lack of sentience does not preclude moral concern, and their raison d'être may render moral concern for them appropriate. Recent attempts by Pettit, McMahon, and Broome to limit the moral realm to individuals are considered. They are rebutted on the grounds that they rest heavily on pre-existing moral intuitions; they ascribe a stronger thesis than is necessary to the sponsors of the moral significance of non-individuals; and they wrongly assume that what has value for individuals must have value because it has value for individuals. Collectivities can have moral importance even if they lack the intrinsic moral importance attaching to human beings, and substantial consequences follow from that fact. In particular, routine appeals to the distinctness of persons become more problematic when collectivities, themselves composed entirely of persons, have independent moral significance which needs to be taken into account. That will affect both assessment of moral consequences and the process of moral decision-making.
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