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Collective intentionality

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-W056-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Intentionality refers to the capacity of mental states to be about or directed toward some object or state of affairs. Collective intentionality refers to a growing area of intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary research that studies the ways in which individuals share mental states such as belief, knowledge, and intention, and the possibility that groups themselves are the bearers of mental states. In addition, those working within this area have developed accounts of joint action, group mind/cognition, collective responsibility, and the construction of social reality.

Theories of shared intention attempt to characterize the intentional structure that underlies joint action. Individual action is guided and informed by intentions. When we act together, intentions seem to play a role as well. The question is whether individual intentions to do one’s part are sufficient to explain joint action. Some theorists argue that they are not and that what is needed is either a special type of individual intention (a we-intention) or a complex set of interconnected individual attitudes that are common knowledge among participants.

In addition to acting together, members of a group make judgments together. A search committee might make a judgment about a candidate that diverges from the beliefs that individuals have about a candidate. Theories of group belief aim to capture the ways in which beliefs might be appropriately attributed to a group. Some theorists argue that attributions of belief to a group are appropriate on the basis of the fact that members have accepted the proposition as being the group’s belief or have jointly committed to believing the proposition as a group (i.e., as single person would). Debates surrounding the idea of group belief focus on the question of whether group belief is really a form of belief.

Finally, the formation of group attitudes is often done in the context of joint deliberation or joint problem-solving and collective remembering. Group cognition is the idea that in these contexts cognition is distributed across members of a group and can be appropriately attributed to the group itself rather than to the individuals within the group. Accounts of group cognition have been influenced by functionalism in the philosophy of mind, by the field of distributed cognition, and by the extended-mind hypothesis.

Citing this article:
Tollefsen, Deborah and Christina Friedlaender. Collective intentionality, 2017, doi:10.4324/0123456789-W056-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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