Higher Sem in Practical Philosophy: Björn Petersson "Group morality and moral groups: ethical aspects of the Tuomelian we-mode"

28 October 2021 13:15 to 15:00 Seminar

Björn Petersson' talk will be self-contained. 


Raimo Tuomela’s we-mode groups are partly characterized by norms. Some norms may be characteristic of all we-mode groups, like the norm restricting a member’s right to leave the group without permission. They may also be group-specific and dependent on the goals of the particular group. These group norms, Tuomela stresses, are not to be conflated with moral norms. A group of criminals may follow their “group morality” without behaving morally in any proper sense. (Tuomela 2013, 295)

Some think that this aspect of Tuomela’s theory has implausible ethical implications concerning the rights and autonomy of members in we-mode groups (Corlett & Lyons Strobel 2017). That worry vanishes, I argue, on a plausible interpretation of Tuomela’s notion of social normativity and a reasonable precisification of the notion of autonomy in this context.

On the other hand, Tuomela’s general silence on the nature of moral normativity makes it unclear how his distinction between social and moral normativity should be drawn more precisely.  Is this a difference in kind, or merely a difference in the scope or social basis of the norms in question? Perhaps moral normativity is just a species of social normativity, but applied to, and/or grounded in, larger collectives? Admittedly, this does not seem to be what Tuomela has in mind in the few places where he refers to ethics or morality in the general sense, e. g. as “Kantian”. Nevertheless, I find the possibility worth exploring briefly with the aid of resources available within a broadly Tuomelian framework.

A third issue relating to ethical aspects of the Tuomelian we-mode is whether adopting the we-mode in certain situations can be ethically required or at least recommendable from a moral point of view. The plausibility of this assumption hangs on whether we-modes or I-modes can be voluntarily adopted at all. Tuomela takes the view “that not only can the mode sometimes be intentionally selected /…/ but sometimes it can also be rationally intentionally selected” (2013, 195) while e. g. Elisabeth Pacherie, Michael Bacharach and others including myself have doubted this. I suggest that there is an ambiguity in Tuomela’s key term ‘we-mode’, such that it may capture two distinct but not mutually exclusive concepts of collectivity. Roughly, on a perspectival understanding of the Tuomelian we-mode, voluntarism seems less plausible, while a content-focused reading of Tuomela’s key concept, like Kirk Ludwig’s (2016, 234), opens up for voluntarism. Both interpretations have textual support in Raimo Tuomela’s work, or so I claim.



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28 October 2021 13:15 to 15:00



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