I'm puzzled by David T's response to my argument that apologies for the distant past by collective outfits of one kind and another are possible and can be meaningful, even if one might doubt the necessity or the wisdom of such an apology in a particular case. So far as I can see, David's core objection is that collectivities aren't 'true persons'; and there's an echo of the same worry in this post by Shuggy, when he calls the 'notion of collectives having a personality of their own' problematic.
However, I don't have to believe that collectivities have some sort of metaphysical personality to argue what I did. Nor do I have to believe that collectivities could exist without the individuals who are their members. And I don't believe either thing. What I do think is that human collectivities are not reducible without residue to the particular individuals belonging to them at any given time.
Here are some rough and ready ways of seeing why. Look at these seven people playing cards. They meet once a month. They're a poker school. But the same seven people are also professional colleagues, and as it happens they make up the policy committee of a university department. One is the chair of that department, another the director of the graduate school, a third the exams secretary, and so forth. They're the very same individuals, but two different collectivities, and those collectivities are constituted not just by them as a group of individuals but also by different sets of activities or procedures, the different structures of relations in which they stand, codes of rules, whatever.
If Bob can't play on the first Friday (when they always meet) of one particular month and Clare takes his place, the poker school - the same poker school - can still sensibly be said to exist. If there's turnover in the personnel of the policy committee, even to the extent of 100%, it's still the policy committee of the department in question. The Manchester United football team remains that whether Ryan Giggs is playing or not.
Human collectivities really exist even though they are not persons and couldn't exist without individual persons. But they aren't identical with the individual persons composing them. They are governed by rules and customs, have structures and agreed sets of procedures, engage in activities, incur obligations. A structure, just to pick that out here, may be a set of related positions in an organization, one which persists even when all the individuals in those positions have been replaced between time T1 and time T2 - and that structure can have real effects (influencing, for example, relations of authority).
Collectivities can act. One man - the captain - objects to the umpire on behalf of his team. It will not matter if, in doing so, he personally doesn't feel at all strongly about the matter on which he is objecting, but is only doing so because most of the members of the team do feel strongly. Registering an objection is not a psychological state of mind, it is a public symbolic act with its own recognized forms. Likewise, an apology: to be sincere, an apology requires a certain state of mind, but to be an apology it does not. It is the use of certain spoken or written symbols and/or gestures.
To argue that an apology can't be given – not that it isn't generally worthwhile, but that it isn't logically possible - by a person on behalf of an organization, nation or other collectivity, because the collectivity is not itself a person, just strikes me as bizarre. It is not in harmony with how we understand these things. And to say that the person apologizing must themselves have committed the wrong for which the apology is offered simply begs the question. So a person couldn't apologize on behalf of his or her family when the rest of the family have behaved extremely badly towards Blanche? And if nonetheless that person says, 'Blanche, I'm so sorry for the way my family have behaved towards you', and Blanche accepts this, what was it that happened there?
[This and the following post by Eve Garrard were written independently of one another.]