Organisations as Computing Systems
Keywords:social ontology, group agency, philosophy of the social sciences
Organisations are computing systems. The university’s sports centre is a computing system for managing sports teams and facilities. The tenure committee is a computing system for assigning tenure status. Despite an increasing number of publications in group ontology, the computational nature of organisations has not been recognised. The present paper is the first in this debate to propose a theory of organisations as groups structured for computing. I begin by describing the current situation in group ontology and by spelling out the thesis in more detail. I then present the example of a sports centre to illustrate why one might intuitively think of organisations as computing systems. To substantiate the thesis, I introduce Piccinini’s restrictive analysis of physical computation. As I show, organisations meet all criteria for being computing systems. Organisations are structured groups with the function of manipulating medium-independent vehicles according to rules. Furthermore, I argue for the modal claim that this is a necessary feature of organisations. Having sketched the computational account of organisations, I compare it to other proposals in the literature.
Ashforth, B. E., and V. Anand. 2003. “The Normalization of Corruption in Organizations.” Research in Organizational Behavior 25: 1–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0191-3085(03)25001-2.
Chalmers, D. J. 1996. “Does a Rock Implement Every Finite-State Automaton?” Synthese 108 (3): 309–33. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00413692.
Cioffi-Revilla, C. 2017. Introduction to Computational Social Science. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-50131-4
Clark, A., and D. Chalmers. 1998. “The Extended Mind.” Analysis 58 (1): 7–19. https://doi.org/10.1093/analys/58.1.7.
Coelho Mollo, D. 2018. “Functional Individuation, Mechanistic Implementation: The Proper Way of Seeing the Mechanistic View of Concrete Computation.” Synthese 195 (8): 3477–97. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1380-5.
Coelho Mollo, D. 2019. “Are There Teleological Functions to Compute?” Philosophy of Science 86 (3): 431–52. https://doi.org/10.1086/703554.
Dennett, D. C. 1987. The Intentional Stance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Effingham, N. 2010. “The Metaphysics of Groups.” Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition 149 (2): 251–67. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-009-9335-4
Epstein, B. 2015. The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences. New York: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199381104.001.0001
Epstein, B. 2019. “What Are Social Groups? Their Metaphysics and How to Classify Them.” Synthese 196 (12): 4899–932. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1387-y.
Fodor, J. A. 1975. The Language of Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Fodor, J. A. 1981. “The Mind-Body Problem.” Scientific American 244 (1): 114–23. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamerican0181-114
Gallagher, S. 2018. “The Extended Mind: State of the Question.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 56 (4): 421–47. https://doi.org/10.1111/sjp.12308.
Gallagher, S., and A. Crisafi. 2009. “Mental Institutions.” Topoi 28 (1): 45–51. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-008-9045-0.
Gallotti, M., and B. Huebner. 2017. “Collective Intentionality and Socially Extended Minds.” Philosophical Psychology: 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515089.2017.1295629.
Gilbert, M. 1992. On Social Facts. Princeton: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780691214627
Goldstone, R. L., and G. Theiner. 2017. “The Multiple, Interacting Levels of Cognitive Systems Perspective on Group Cognition.” Philosophical Psychology 30 (3): 334–68. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515089.2017.1295635.
Gordon, B., and G. Theiner. 2015. “Scaffolded Joint Action as a Micro–Foundation of Organizational Learning.” In Contextualizing Human Memory: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding How Individuals and Groups Remember the Past, edited by C. B. Stone, and L. Bietti, 154–86. New York: Psychology Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315815398-9
Hawley, K. 2017. “Social Mereology.” Journal of the American Philosophical Association 3 (4): 395–411. https://doi.org/10.1017/apa.2017.33.
Hollan, J., E. Hutchins, and D. Kirsh. 2000. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-Computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 7 (2): 174–96. https://doi.org/10.1145/353485.353487.
Huebner, B. 2014. Macrocognition: A Theory of Distributed Minds and Collective Intentionality. New York: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199926275.001.0001
Huebner, B., and J. Jebari. 2018. “Computational Theories of Group Behavior.” In The Routledge Handbook of the Computational Mind, edited by M. Sprevak, and M. Colombo, 483–96. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315643670-36
Hutchins, E. 1995. Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/1881.001.0001
Khalidi, M. A. 2013. Natural Categories and Human Kinds: Classification in the Natural and Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511998553
Khalidi, M. A. 2015. “Three Kinds of Social Kinds.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 90 (1): 96–112. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12020.
Kripke, S. A. 1980. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
List, C., and P. Pettit. 2011. Group Agency: The Possibility, Design, and Status of Corporate Agents. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199591565.001.0001
March, J. G., and H. A. Simon. 1958. Organizations. New York: Wiley.
Mason, R. 2016. “The Metaphysics of Social Kinds.” Philosophy Compass 11 (12): 841–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/phc3.12381.
Miller, J. H., and S. Page. 2007. Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Morgan, G. 2006. Images of Organization. London: Sage Publications.
Piccinini, G. 2015. Physical Computation: A Mechanistic Account. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199658855.001.0001
Piccinini, G., and A. Scarantino. 2011. “Information Processing, Computation, and Cognition.” Journal of Biological Physics 37 (1): 1–38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10867-010-9195-3.
Preisendörfer, P. 2011. Organisationssoziologie: Grundlagen, Theorien und Problemstellungen. Wiesbaden: VS, Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-531-92883-8
Putnam, H. 1960. “Minds and Machines.” In Dimensions of Minds, edited by S. Hook, 138–64. New York: New York University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511625251.020
Putnam, H. 1967. “The Nature of Mental States.” In Art, Mind, and Religion, edited by W. H. Capitan, and D. D. Merrill, 1–223. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press.
Putnam, H. 1988. Representation and Reality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ritchie, K. 2013. “What Are Groups?” Philosophical Studies 166 (2): 257–72. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-012-0030-5.
Ritchie, K. 2015. “The Metaphysics of Social Groups.” Philosophy Compass 10 (5): 310–21. https://doi.org/10.1111/phc3.12213.
Ritchie, K. 2020. “Social Structures and the Ontology of Social Groups.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 100 (2): 402–24. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12555.
Rupert, R. D. 2004. “Challenges to the Hypothesis of Extended Cognition.” Journal of Philosophy 101 (8): 389–428. https://doi.org/10.5840/jphil2004101826.
Rupert, R. D. 2005. “Minding One’s Cognitive Systems: When Does a Group of Minds Constitute a Single Cognitive Unit?” Episteme 1 (3): 177–88. https://doi.org/10.3366/epi.2004.1.3.177
Rupert, R. D. 2009. Cognitive Systems and the Extended Mind. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195379457.001.0001
Scott, W. R., and G. F. Davis. 2006. Organizations and Organizing: Rational, Natural and Open System Perspectives. London: Routledge.
Searle, J. R. 1992. The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/5834.001.0001
Sheehy, P. 2003. “Social Groups, Explanation and Ontological Holism.” Philosophical Papers 32 (2): 193–224. https://doi.org/10.1080/05568640309485123.
Sheehy, P. 2006a. The Reality of Social Groups. Aldershot: Ashgate. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315553627
Sheehy, P. 2006b. “Sharing Space: The Synchronic Identity of Social Groups.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 36 (2): 131–48. https://doi.org/10.1177/0048393106287184.
Spaulding, S. 2012. “Overextended Cognition.” Philosophical Psychology 25 (4): 469–90. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515089.2011.579421.
Strauss, A. L. 1988. Negotiations: Varieties, Contexts, Processes, and Social Order. San Francisco, London: Jossey-Bass.
Strauss, A. L., L. Schatzman, D. Ehrlich, R. Butcher, and M. Sabshin. 1963. “The Hospital and its Negotiated Order.” In The Hospital in Modern Society, edited by E. Freidson, 147–69. Glencoe: The Free Press of Glencoe.
Strohmaier, D. 2018. “Group Membership and Parthood.” Journal of Social Ontology 4 (2): 121–35. https://doi.org/10.1515/jso-2018-0016.
Strohmaier, D. 2020a. “Two Theories of Group Agency.” Philosophical Studies 177 (7): 1901–18. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-019-01290-4.
Strohmaier, D. 2020b. “Social-Computation-Supporting Kinds.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 50 (7): 862–77. https://doi.org/10.1017/can.2020.33.
Tollefsen, D. 2006. “From Extended Mind to Collective Mind.” Cognitive Systems Research 7 (2–3): 140–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogsys.2006.01.001.
Tollefsen, D. 2015. Groups as Agents, Cambridge, UK; Malden, USA. Polity.
Updike, J. 2003. The Early Stories, 1953–1975. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Uzquiano, G. 2004. “The Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Justices: A Metaphysical Puzzle.” Noûs 38 (1): 135–53. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0068.2004.00465.x
Uzquiano, G. 2018. “Groups: Toward a Theory of Plural Embodiment.” The Journal of Philosophy 115 (8): 423–52. https://doi.org/10.5840/jphil2018115825.
Vaughan, D. 1999. “The Dark Side of Organizations: Mistake, Misconduct, and Disaster.” Annual Review of Sociology 25 (1): 271–305. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.soc.25.1.271.
Weber, M. 2013 [1921–1922]. “Economy and Society.” In Two Volume Set, With a New Foreword by Guenther Roth Edition, edited by G. Roth, and C. Wittich. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674240827
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.