H. Social Epistemology, Pragmatism & Virtue Theory > Anita Konzelmann Ziv on "Institutional Virtue: How Consensus Matters"

Anita Ziv has a new paper that treats insitutional virtue and the collectivist and distributivist accounts of group trait-ascriptions. Philos Stud (2012) 161:87–96 DOI 10.1007/s11098-012-9933-4

Abstract. The paper defends the thesis that institutional virtue is properly modeled as a ‘‘consensual’’ property, along the lines of the Lehrer–Wagner model of consensus (LWC). In a first step, I argue that institutional virtue is not exhausted by duty-fulfilling, since institutions, contrary to natural individuals, are designed to fulfill duties. To avoid the charge of vacuity, virtue, if attributed to institutions, must be able to motivate supererogatory action. In a second step, I argue against discontinuity of institutional virtue with individual virtue. Two main arguments for discontinuity of collective properties display serious shortcomings when applied to virtues of institutions. Given that motivation for supererogatory action is neither inferred from statutory duties nor accommodates a right of reprobation, modeling institutional virtue on collective rationality or explaining it in terms of joint commitment
both prove problematic. In a third step, I argue that LWC has the
explanatory potential to account for institutional virtue. Due to its main features, iteration and evaluation, it provides a non-trivial analysis of continuity and thereby satisfies basic constraints on the notion of genuine institutional virtue.

Keywords Consensus  (Dis)continuity  Evaluation  Institutional virtue Supererogatory action

In the Intro Ziv writes, "It has been argued that ‘‘it is sometimes possible and reasonable to ascribe virtues to collectives’’ and that this practice might help to deal with the situationist challenge in virtue ethics (Sandin 2007, p. 303). More specifically, it has been argued that attributing virtues such as ‘‘testimonial justice’’ to institutional groups can account for a society’s legitimacy and freedom (Fricker 2010, p. 250f). And it has even been suggested that corporations, in virtue of their constitution, ‘‘will probably prove more capable of consistent and dependable ethical behaviour than humans’’ (French 1995, p. 80). Advocates of the existence of institutional virtue univocally claim that an institution G’s virtue V must be accounted for in terms of a property that is not
necessarily continuous with a property V of G’s individual members. Fricker argues that a ‘‘non-summative account’’ is needed to model collective virtue, and she takes it that ‘‘the model given by Gilbert in her classic notion of a ‘plural subject’ […] provides an excellent template for our thinking about group virtue’’ (Fricker 2010, p. 240). Referring to French’s characterization of institutions as ‘‘conglomerate collectivities’’ whose ‘‘identity is not exhausted by the identities’’ of their individual
members, Sandin takes ‘‘conglomerates’’ to be the suitable ‘‘candidates for
ascriptions of collective virtue’’ (Sandin 2007, p. 305). He thereby suggests that collective virtues are not distributions of individual virtues...Granted some convenience of attributing virtues to collectives, particularly to institutional groups, the present paper aims at elucidating the question to what extent collectivist accounts can satisfy the requirements of virtue ascriptions to institutions. Contrary to distributive
or aggregate accounts, collectivist accounts defend the view that the properties of collectives are discontinuous with the properties of their individual members. On the grounds of the moral role that virtues play in motivating an agent’s course of action I will first argue that an institution’s genuine virtues cannot be discontinuous with the individual virtues of its members. Then I will show how the Lehrer–Wagner account of consensus (LWC) models collective properties that are nontrivially
continuous with individual properties. In the third section of the paper I will
argue that the relevant requirements an account of institutional virtues must meet are all satisfied by LWC. I conclude that we might indeed have good reasons to attribute virtues to institutions, provided we model them in terms of ‘‘consensual’’ properties" (p. 87-88).
May 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell