Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The goals of this dissertation are to examine the existing philosophical literature on group agency and collective responsibility and to demonstrate that this literature fails to sufficiently address the hierarchical organization of corporations, thereby severely limiting the applicability of this literature to real-world business situations. Where references to corporate hierarchy are made in the group agency and collective responsibility literature, they are incidental and descriptive only. This is in contrast to general business literature, business ethics literature, and organizational theory literature, which each highlight the importance of corporate hierarchy from their respective points of view. In this dissertation, the concept of the hierarchical organization of corporations is carefully examined to show how it identifies 1) the roles and tasks required to meet corporate objectives and 2) the relationships, both simple and complex, that are created between and among the roles specified in the corporate hierarchy. By integrating this understanding of corporate hierarchy into the philosophy of group agency and collective responsibility that are articulated in the existing literature an account of corporate group agency and collective responsibility is produced that better describes and explains the operation of group agents by providing concrete ways to describe how they form corporate intent, make corporate decisions and carry out corporate action. Furthermore, explanations of group agency that integrate the concept of corporate hierarchy provide a clear way to articulate claims of individual responsibility in the setting of corporate collective responsibility.

From this account of group agency, improvements to business ethics are also recommended. These improvements come from viewing corporations as hierarchically organized group agents and integrating organizational ethical principles into existing business ethics. In addition, the relationships created in hierarchically organized group agents entail ethical responsibilities for the individuals who are part of a corporate group agent, both leaders and those who carry out leaders' decisions; and ultimately, it is the fulfillment of the responsibilities on each side of this hierarchically defined set of relationships that leads to an optimally functioning corporate hierarchy, and correspondingly, a fully functioning group agent.

The implications of this work on corporations for other types of group agents are also explored, leading to the prospect of a clearer articulation of obligations and responsibilities in these groups, through the integration of a concept of organizational structure (of which corporate hierarchy is one clear example) in the study of these group agents. And finally, a new question is posed and briefly examined: is some kind of organizational structure is one of the necessary or sufficient conditions of group agency?

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Creative Commons License
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