What does shared intentionality mean?

Collective intentionality. Social action and collective actors

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Terminus technicus "intentionality"
2.1 General characteristics
2.2 Central problems of collective intentionality

3. Joint Practice - Joint Action
3.1 Common Practice - Social Groups
3.2 Joint Action - Shared Purpose

4. Collective action
4.1 Institutional Action - Collective Actors
4.2 Normativity and Language

5. Summary


1 Introduction

An analysis of collective intentionality generally pursues the goal of describing the fundamentals of the social or of discussing a basic structure of social and collective action. First of all, two different approaches are to be distinguished in this regard: The one who tries to structure complex social phenomena on the basis of modest social associations, such as e.g. a walk together to uncover. Usually, individual actions are viewed as the basis and common and collective actions as a consequence of this. The other position, on the other hand, takes a view that collective actions are a primitive phenomenon that should not be analyzed on the basis of individual actions, but parallel to them. I am not taking a neutral position in this dispute because I believe that the former position implies a premise that seems implausible to me. This is never explicitly stated, but it seems to me that with this approach 'society' is not viewed as something given, but as something that arises through the union of individuals. This is implausible because, according to the theory of evolution, humans as such were never loners; rather, social groups are a prerequisite for ensuring its survival. Common action arises within the social group, which as such has to share intentional states in order to survive. The structure of my discussion of the subject of 'collective intentionality' is based on this assumption. So I assume that the basis for 'joint' action is a social group, whereby it should be noted that a social group does not yet act as such only because of its existence. I consider 'collective' action to be an aggregate of joint action, since I view collective action roughly analogously to institutional action. However, this is not intended to give the impression that I would believe, as the first mentioned position does, that the structure of complex social phenomena can be described in terms of simple social phenomena. In my opinion, the essential factor for the possibility of institutions is language, which is the real reason why such phenomena should be analyzed in parallel with individual actions. If body movements are the basis of individual action, speech acts are the basis of collective action.

2. Terminus technicus "intentionality"

Intentionality, as a determining factor to distinguish actions from mere behavior, describes the characteristic of a mental state to relate to something. When we speak of desires, beliefs, attitudes or intentions, we are talking about such a state because it is necessary that they relate to something, as distinct from moods such as 'being in a bad mood', which are also unrelated can. It is therefore a technical term that is essentially characterized by the three characteristics 'subject', 'content' and 'mode', which I will describe in more detail below.

2.1 General characteristics

In this description, I am essentially following the one given in the introduction to the anthology “Collective Intentionality - A Debate on the Basics of the Social” by the editors Hans Bernhard Schmid and David P. Schweikard.1

The subject is characterized as the 'bearer' of the intentional state, "that is, [as] that being who 'has' the corresponding conviction or intention" ".2 A subject is usually thought of as an individual, i.e. a physical fact. A collective, however, apparently consists of many and not off one Carrier, which is why this with regard to collective Intentionality is probably the greatest challenge. But before I get back to it, the terms salary and mode have to be explained.

The content is represented by the object, i.e. that to which the mental state is directed, with the mode indicating in which way this happens. A distinction is made between three classes of modes: cognitive Intentionality, conative Intentionality and affective Intentionality.

Cognitive intentionality encompasses those attitudes and processes that aim at knowledge of and knowledge of the respective facts to which they are related. Attitudes that express an endeavor belong to the conative intentionality. Finally, the category of affective intentionality includes all the states, attitudes and attitudes that lead to an emotional evaluation of the reference object.3

The distinction between narrow content, which is understood as independent of the environment of the intentional subject, and broad content, which is dependent on the environment of the subject, should also be mentioned. This makes it possible to distinguish between erroneous and successful references. In addition, this distinction expresses interests in mind theory about the nature of mental states that manifest themselves in the positions of externalism and internalism. The former are of the opinion that mental states are at least partially dependent on characteristics outside the subject (broad content), while the latter are of the opinion that mental states are completely determined by intrinsic properties of the subject (narrow content).

2.2 Central problems of collective intentionality

In view of this characterization, the question now arises to what extent intentionality can be collective or what kind of intentionality should be collective.

One of the problems has already been indicated by the reference to the conflict between internalists and externalists. The question is whether the content of the intentional state can be traced back to the subject alone, or whether it is also dependent on the subject's surroundings. One of the solution options for this leads to another problem that deals with the propositional constitution of intentional states. In my opinion, at least some, if not most, intentional states, especially in the case of cognitive, but also in the case of conative intentionality, are propositions. I will devote myself to this question in more detail below and initially only refer to examples such as 'the capital of Austria is Vienna' or 'the water molecule consists of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms', of which there are innumerable. This does not mean that intentional states are fundamentally propositions have toWhich I do not believe by the way, but it is at least pointed out that there are intentional states that are propositions. If one understands language as a social practice, for example, one remembers Wittgenstein's language games, then internalism seems to be confronted with a problem that is difficult to solve, whereas externalism is given a strong argument. This aspect indicates on the one hand that propositional-intentional states, if private languages ​​are excluded, have external characteristics and, on the other hand, which is much more interesting in relation to this debate, that such states (propositional-intentional states) would not be possible without a collective . At this point it should be pointed out briefly that, as can be seen from this brief discussion, how collective intentionality is grasped depends heavily on language-theoretical or spiritual-theoretical positions.

When dealing with the topic of social action and collective intentionality, I had the impression that the juxtaposition of reductionist and anti-reductionist positions is, so to speak, the essence of the debate. This applies to all mentioned features of intentionality, whereby a distinction must be made because there are only structural similarities, which in my opinion has to do with the fact that a subject is normally physical, whereas the mode is mental and the content is physical and mental. Some authors prefer an ontological reduction that reduces the collective to its participating individuals and their mutual relationships and dependencies. Others see the collective as a primitive phenomenon with irreducible properties, manifested, for example, by the fact that it is literally impossible for individuals to perform the action or that the judgment of the collective breaks with the majority opinions of the participating individuals. Collective intentionality would thus require a kind of collective subject or, as some authors call it, a plural subject as the basis, which must appear esoteric to the hard-nosed Cartesians from the start, since terms such as 'group spirit', 'collective consciousness' or 'collective actor' can appear here .

Furthermore, it is a question of whether intentions, i.e. mental states, of the form 'We intend to ...' are originally, which represents the anti-reductionist approach, or whether these are made up of several 'I intend to ...' and their mutual convictions and / or put together interdependent relationships, which corresponds to a reductionism. Thus, according to the reductionists, two people who go for a walk together would each only intend their own contribution, but as part of a cooperative context.

Anti-reductionist approaches to these analyzes can be described as those which treat direct reference to common actions as a constitutive part of collective intentions. This position does not presuppose that there is a collective intentional action-subject who intends its actions in collective form; rather, they are based on the idea that the common reference to common action creates the mutual relationship between those involved [...].4

Another problem, which in my opinion has received too little attention, concerns the role of normativity. Since I dedicate a separate section to this topic, I will only give a brief description of the questions that occupy the authors, again based on those given by Schmid and Schweikard.5 I am attempting to connect this problem directly with the problem of shared or collective modes of reference. Since it is mostly assumed that there is shared knowledge about the project or action in the case of shared intentions and joint actions, the first question that arises is whether this shared knowledge, as a shared cognitive-intentional state, is sufficient, or whether normative expectations and Obligations between the parties involved must be involved. One or the other point of view can be taken, as well as the point of view which I prefer, that normative relationships are fundamental. What I see in connection with the question of normativity concerns the modes of shared intentional states. If intentions are conceived in such a way that they are preceded by wishes, beliefs or attitudes, it is a natural consequence that the analysis of shared intentions, which, as I have already mentioned, presuppose common knowledge about them, is followed by the analysis of shared cognitive states. “But there are also research interests in the topic of collective intentionality that are not directly related to the analysis of common intentions. So far this has mainly affected the following modes of intentional attitudes: acceptance, attention and affectivity. "6 Dealing with this topic seems very interesting to me, but in order not to overstrain this work, I will limit myself to collective acceptance. Collective acceptance is illustrated very well by the example of money. John R. Searle sums this up by saying, “It is an objective fact that the piece of paper in my hand is a twenty dollar bill or that I am a citizen of the United States [...]. But these objective facts only exist insofar as they are collectively accepted or recognized. "7 Also, it is a remarkable aspect of the collective acceptance of money that it cannot simply be said that it is one cognitive intentional state, since in such a state the mind is adapted to the world. What speaks against it in the case of money, however, is “that the paper in question becomes money or is money precisely because it is taken for money or is collectively accepted as such”.8 This means that the world is also adapted to the spirit, which actually corresponds more to a conation.


1 Hans Bernhard Schmid / David P. Schweikard (eds.): Collective Intentionality - A Debate on the Fundamentals of the Social. Frankfurt am Main 2009, p. 38ff.

2 Ibid. P. 39.

3 Ibid. P. 42.

4 See Schmid / Schweikard, Collective intentionality, P. 54.

5 See Schmid / Schweikard, Collective intentionality, P. 54f.

6 Ibid. P. 55.

7 John R. Searle, “Some basic principles of social ontology”, in: Collective Intentionality, ed. by Hans Bernhard Schmid / David P. Schweikard, Frankfurt am Main 2009, p. 505.

8 See Schmid / Schweikard, Collective intentionality, P. 57.

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