Collective Agency in Christian Ethics
This dissertation makes a case for renewed attention to the notion of collective agency and responsibility in Christian ethics. The overarching argument is that the kinds of moral claims we frequently make on social groups cannot be adequately reduced to individual or structural terms, and that a rightly construed sense of collective agency can help fill this conceptual gap. This view is in keeping with important elements of Christian reflection on the nature of social interaction and social life, and the main goal of the dissertation is the development of a model for understanding some groups as collective moral agents. After a survey of treatments of the problem of collective agency and responsibility in the Bible and Christian theology in the introduction, the dissertation turns to the work of two major figures in twentieth century Christian ethics, Jacques Maritain and Reinhold Niebuhr, to provide the central elements of this view of collective agency. Namely, these figures supply contrasting but mutually correcting accounts of individual intersubjectivity, structural non-reducibility, and collective intentionality in social groups. Perspectives from the social sciences and from analytic philosophy help clarify the issues at hand and adjudicate the differences between Maritain and Niebuhr. The dissertation ends with a theological synthesis of the forgoing discussion, proposing a view of the potential for collective moral agency that takes account of the capacity for both friendship and coercion in human intersubjectivity, for both community and conflict in social organization, and for both intentional creativity and impersonal functionality in the interaction of individual and structural elements of social life.