Plural Subjectivity -vs- Individual Autonomy

Alas poor blog, much neglected by me (last post over a year ago!) – as part of a new resolve to get things going again here is the title and abstract for the talk I’m planning for my Sheffield University Postgrad Seminar on Wednesday 25th


Plural Subjectivity –vs– Individual Autonomy


We describe, and experience, our social lives as involving collective acts – reflected in sentences such as “we bought a sofa”, “we conquered Everest”, “we invaded Iraq”. While we might attempt to give reductive individualist accounts of this phenomenon, Margaret Gilbert presents a compelling argument that such reductions fail to capture the essentially collective nature of our experience of these social acts. Further, she attempts to produce an account of this that a) captures the necessary plurality but b) avoids positing any disturbing/mysterious collective entity that exists beyond the individuals. She calls her account Plural Subject Theory (PST).

In this talk, I’m going to assume that Gilbert’s claims about our experience of collective acts are at least in the right ball park (i.e. that we do indeed experience collective acts as being essentially collective) but highlight another aspect of our experience that might be thought to be in conflict (perhaps even contradiction) with this: our experience of our agency as being (at least minimally) essentially autonomous. Hopefully, as well as clarifying what I take to be our experiences of plurality subjectivity and individual autonomy and the relationship between them – I will explain why (what appears to me to be) Gilbert’s response, I call it ‘biting the bullet‘, fails and sketch out the direction I think we need to take in modifying PST to find a satisfying synthesis of these experiences: namely replacing Gilbert’s idea – that we form plural subjects through (at root) voluntary ‘pooling of our wills‘ – with that of our identities as agents (and hence our wills) becoming entangled through the process of social life.


About Joseph Kisolo

Philosopher teaching Ethics & Epistemology @ NottsUni and interested in in Social Ontology. Outside academia interested in climbing, design, geekery and radical social justice.
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