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Groups, Moral Status of

  1. Kenneth Shockley

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee337

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Shockley, K. 2013. Groups, Moral Status of. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Groups are relevant for morality. By being a member of one group rather than another, I can have different roles and different responsibilities. For instance, if I am a police officer, I have the authority to direct traffic and the responsibility to enforce the law – authorities and responsibilities that ordinary citizens lack. However, this is not to say that the group consisting of police officers has any inherent moral status (see moral status). Groups may describe features of individuals that are morally significant without those groups having moral status themselves. Yet some groups may have inherent status. In this essay I will examine some of the reasons for holding groups to have inherent moral status. The operative distinction for matters of moral status is between those groups that have moral standing and those that do not. In what follows I will take “moral standing” to apply only to those things that count morally, in their own right, rather than instrumentally, for the sake of some other thing. A group is commonly thought to have moral standing either because of properties it has or because of the way we treat it. We will see these two options reflected in various ways in the positions outlined below.


  • legal and political;
  • practical (applied) ethics;
  • moral status