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From Simple to Composite Agency: On Kirk Ludwig’s From Individual to Plural Agency

Journal article
Authors Olle Blomberg
Published in Journal of Social Ontology
Volume 5
Issue 1
Pages 101-124
ISSN 2196-9663
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 101-124
Language en
Keywords Primitive action, composite action, collective action, action sentences, I-intention, Kirk Ludwig, ontology of action
Subject categories Practical philosophy, Theoretical philosophy


According to Kirk Ludwig, only primitive actions are actions in a primary and non-derivative sense of the term ‘action’. Ludwig takes this to imply that the notion of collective action is a façon de parler – useful perhaps, but secondary and derivative. I argue that, on the contrary, collective actions are actions in the primary and non-derivative sense. First, this is because some primitive actions are collective actions. Secondly, individual and collective composites of primitive actions are also actions in the primary and non-derivative sense. Hence, individual action and collective action are ontologically on a par. Ludwig also exaggerates the contrast between individual and collective action by introducing a “sole agency requirement” in his account of the semantics of singular action sentences. However, sole agency is merely typically pragmatically implicated by singular action sentences, not entailed by them. If I say, “I turned on the light”, after we each flipped one of two switches that together turned on the light, then I might be misleading the audience, but what I say is true. Finally, I argue that, contra Ludwig, individuals often have “I-intentions” to bring about an event that can be satisfied even if there are co-agents who bring about the event in the same way.

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