Dissertation How We Act Together

There is an intuitive distinction between things we do as individuals and things we do together. This distinction has a profound practical importance for us, conceptually, pragmatically, and normatively. Singing a duet is only possible for us if we can do things together. I might be able to solve a puzzle on my own, but not if I want to enjoy myself. And only those people who engage in price-fixing should be punished, not everyone whose individual actions contribute to the resulting price. We have structures of thought and judgment that we use to engage in these endeavors and judge others when they do so. My dissertation is an attempt to identify, characterize, and explicate the concepts involved in these structures of thought and judgment about the things we do together.

Many think that the distinction between individual and collective action bears a strong resemblance to the one between individual action and mere behavior. Since we make the latter using the concept of intention, those people think, we should employ collective intention to make the former. Current approaches that understand collective action in terms of collective intention can be profitably divided into two camps. Non-normativists argue that collective intentions are a structure of individual psychological attitudes that have, variously, a special form, content, or interrelations. Normativists argue that collective intentions involve a special standing between the participants, generated by particular states or acts of the individuals and involving interpersonal, directed obligations.

I argue for a novel normativist view. My argument begins from recent experimental research about our common intuitions about acting together, which suggests that collective action has three features: (i) exiting a collective action involves an obligation to make that exit public, (ii) this obligation is present in “morally wrong” cases of collective action, and (iii) exiting the collective does not involve an obligation to seek the permission of the other participants. Based on this research, I claim that non-normativist views are misguided, and highlight the difficulty of providing a non-normativist view that accounts for these judgments. I also address the normativist views in the literature and show how they fail to properly characterize the normative properties of collective action. I then present an account of collective intention that best explains these features of collective action.

On my view, a collective intention is a public representation that collectively commits participants to a course of action. It arises from a combination of individual conditional commitments to act that combine into the categorical commitment of all. After clarifying the idea of a public representation, specifying how public representations relate to the idea of collective commitment, and spelling out how these representations fulfil the action-guiding roles of intentions, I show how this account incorporates and explains the four judgments.

I also explain the source of normativity in collective action. Acting together involves a special standing between the participants, a shared status that allows them to negotiate, encourage, criticize, propose, and rebuke in ways that are not appropriate for others, because of the nature of the conditional commitment of the participants inherent in collective intention. The condition on each conditional commitment is not the action or commitment of the others, but the conditional commitment of the others. And, it is not just that each commitment is dependent on the others, but that each commitment is dependent on the others being dependent on it. This higher-order interdependence is what binds participants together in collective action, what generates the special standing between them.

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"How we Act Together"

“Normativity in Joint Action”

Abstract: The debate regarding the nature of joint action has come to a stalemate due to a dependence on intuitional methods. Normativists, such as Margaret Gilbert, argue that action‐relative normative relations are inherent in joint action, while non‐normativists, such as Michael Bratman, claim that there are minimal cases of joint action without normative relations. In this work, we describe the first experimental examinations of these intuitions, and report the results of six studies that weigh in favor of the normativist paradigm. Philosophical ramifications and further extensions of this work are then discussed.

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“Normativity in Joint Action”

“Alignment and Commitment in Joint Action”

Abstract: Important work on alignment systems has been applied to philosophical work on joint action by Tollefsen and Dale. This paper builds from and expands on their work. The first aim of the paper is to spell out how the empirical research on alignment may be integrated into philosophical theories of joint action. The second aim is then to develop a successful characterization of joint action, which spells out the difference between genuine joint action and simpler forms of coordination based on alignment. I begin by introducing the empirical research and two definitions of joint action. I then argue that instead of using this research in conjunction with Searle’s account of collective intentionality, as Tollefsen and Dale suggest, we would be better served by applying this research to Gilbert’s account of plural subjects. In the final sections I distinguish between alignment, coordination, and joint action, clarify the roles of joint commitment and sub-personal alignment in joint action, and argue that these concepts are both consistent and mutually supportive. Combining these two research programs gives us an account of joint action that does justice to both the empirical and philosophical research.

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“Alignment and Commitment in Joint Action”

“Hegemony, Power, and Social Reality in Gramsci and Searle”

Abstract: This paper reconstructs Gramsci’s account of social objects in light of recent developments in analytic social ontology. It combines elements of Gramsci’s account with that of John Searle, and argues that when taken together their theories constitute a robust account of social reality and a nuanced view of the relation between social reality and power. Searle provides a detailed analysis of the creation of social entities at the level of the agent, while Gramsci, by employing his concepts of hegemony and domination, is able to provide an analysis of the differential ability of societal subgroups to construct the social world.

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“Hegemony, Power, and Social Reality in Gramsci and Searle”