What is it to do something with another person? In the author's book On Social Facts and elsewhere, she has conjectured that a special type of commitment - joint commitment - lies at the root of acting together and many other central social phenomena. Here she surveys some data pertinent to this conjecture, including the assumption of those who act together that they have associated rights against and obligations towards each other. She explains what joint commitment is, how it relates (...) to the data noted, and argues that an appeal to joint commitment does not involve a pernicious form of holism. (shrink)
This essay explores the nature of an important collective emotion, namely, collective remorse. Three accounts of collective remorse are presented and evaluated. The first involves an aggregate of group members remorseful over acts of their own associated with their group's act; the second an aggregate of persons remorseful over their group's act. The third account posits, in terms that are explained, a joint commitment of a group's members to constitute as far as is possible a single remorseful body. Construed according (...) to this account the remorse of a nation that has wronged another nation is liable to make a particularly important contribution to international peace. (shrink)
This is a review essay of Christopher Kutz's Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age, and Jonathan Bass's Stay The Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals. Topics addressed include the nature of collective intentions and actions, the possibility of collective guilt, the moral responsibility of individuals in the context of collective actions.
Some psychologists argue that in general we self-ascribe characteristics according to others' perceived reactions to us. In illustration michael argyle cites a case involving the self-Ascription of popularity. But popularity is what I here call a 'reaction-Determined characteristic, That is, A characteristic such that certain others' reacting to someone in a certain way is logically sufficient for his having it. The general import of cases involving such characteristics needs careful examination and I argue that in fact argyle's case does not (...) support the general thesis in question. I conclude that 'ordinary language' analysis is important for the evaluation of psychological data. (shrink)
May social unity - the unity of a society or social group - be a matter of sharing values? Political philosophers disagree on this topic. Kymlicka answers: No. Devlin and Rawls answer: Yes. It is argued that given one common 'summative' account of sharing values a negative answer is correct. A positive answer is correct, however, given the plural subject account of sharing values. Given this account, those who share values are unified in a substantial way by their participation in (...) a joint commitment. Some consequences of such sharing of values for the liberty of the people involved are noted. (shrink)
This paper criticises a line of argument adopted by peter winch, Karl popper, And others, To the effect that the course of human history cannot be predicted. On this view it is impossible to predict in a particularly detailed way certain events ('original acts') on which important social developments depend. We analyze the argument, Showing that one version fails: original acts are in principle predictable in the relevant way. A cogent version is presented; this requires a special definition for 'original (...) act'. But, We claim, Social developments do not depend on original acts so defined. We argue separately for the possibility of a person, Or a scientific community, Predicting his or its own original acts. (shrink)
This essay focuses on what patriotism is, as opposed to the value of patriotism. It focuses further on the basic patriotic motive : one acts with this motive if one acts on behalf of one’s country as such. I first argue that pre-theoretically the basic patriotic motive is sufficient to make an act patriotic from a motivational point of view. In particular the agent need not ascribe virtues or achievements to his country nor need he feel towards it the emotions (...) characteristic of love. Why should one ever act on behalf of one’s country as such, if one does not particularly admire it or feel a special affection for it? In answer to this question I offer a further articulation of the basic patriotic motive, invoking a particular understanding of what it is to be the member of a political society. Building on this articulation I then consider how one might characterize a patriotic act, a patriotic person, and the relationship of patriotism and pride. (shrink)
This article explores the question: what is it for two or more people to intend to do something in the future? In a technical phrase, what is it for people to share an intention ? Extending and refining earlier work of the author’s, it argues for three criteria of adequacy for an account of shared intention (the disjunction, concurrence, and obligation criteria) and offers an account that satisfies them. According to this account, in technical terms explained in the paper, people (...) share an intention when and only when they are jointly committed to intend as a body to do such-and-such in the future. This account is compared and contrasted with the common approach that treats shared intention as a matter of personal intentions, with particular reference to the work of Michael Bratman. (shrink)
I argue that obligations of an important type inhere in what I call 'joint commitments'. I propose a joint commitment account of everyday agreements. This could explain why some philosophers believe that we know of the obligating nature of agreements a priori. I compare and contrast obligations of joint commitment with obligations in the relatively narrow sense recommended by H. L. A. Hart, a recommendation that has been influential. Some central contexts in which Hart takes there to be obligations in (...) his sense are contexts in which there are obligations of joint commitment. Nonetheless, different senses of 'obligation' appear to be at issue. (edited). (shrink)
This article will compare and contrast two very different accounts of convention: the game-theoretical account of Lewis in Convention, and the account initially proposed by Margaret Gilbert (the present author) in chapter six of On Social Facts, and further elaborated here. Gilbert’s account is not a variant of Lewis’s. It was arrived at in part as the result of a detailed critique of Lewis’s account in relation to a central everyday concept of a social convention. An account of convention need (...) not be judged by that standard. Perhaps it reveals the nature of an important phenomenon. Looked at in that light, these very different accounts are not incompatible. Indeed, neither should be ignored if one is seeking to understand the way in which human beings arrive at some degree of social order. (shrink)
Margaret Gilbert offers an incisive new approach to a classic problem of political philosophy: when and why should I do what the laws of my country tell me to do? Beginning with carefully argued accounts of social groups in general and political societies in particular, the author argues that in central, standard senses of the relevant terms membership in a political society in and of itself obligates one to support that society's political institutions. The obligations in question are not moral (...) requirements derived from general moral principles, as is often supposed, but a matter of one's participation in a special kind of commitment: joint commitment. An agreement is sufficient but not necessary to generate such a commitment. Gilbert uses the phrase 'plural subject' to refer to all of those who are jointly committed in some way. She therefore labels the theory offered in this book the plural subject theory of political obligation. The author concentrates on the exposition of this theory, carefully explaining how and in what sense joint commitments obligate. She also explores a classic theory of political obligation --- actual contract theory --- according to which one is obligated to conform to the laws of one's country because one agreed to do so. She offers a new interpretation of this theory in light of a theory of plural subject theory of agreements. She argues that actual contract theory has more merit than has been thought, though the more general plural subject theory is to be preferred. She compares and contrasts plural subject theory with identification theory, relationship theory, and the theory of fair play. She brings it to bear on some classic situations of crisis, and, in the concluding chapter, suggests a number of avenues for related empirical and moral inquiry. Clearly and compellingly written, A Theory of Political Obligation will be essential reading for political philosophers and theorists. (shrink)
This article invokes the idea of a wise society, something that has received little attention from contemporary philosophers. It argues that, given plausible interpretations of the relevant terms, the wiser a society is, the less free it is. Even if one prefers a different account of a wise society, the argument in question is significant, for on this account a wise society possesses features that would seem to be desirable whatever their relationship to wisdom in particular: it makes many true (...) value judgments. What is it for a society to make a true value judgment? An account is offered, and it is argued that all else being equal, a society that increases its stock of true value judgments so understood becomes less free. A number of questions that this argument may prompt are discussed. (shrink)
Two radically different, general accounts of human character traits - the "essentialist" and the "summary" accounts - are given critical consideration. The former account is characterized in terms of Saul Kripke's conception of metaphysical essence. Both accounts are discussed with reference to Jean-Paul Sartre's treatment of character traits. The essentialist account cannot withstand considerations relating to personal identity over time. The summary account is also rejected, as is a certain kind of dispositional account. An approach to at least some character (...) traits in terms of persisting aims, beliefs, and so on is recommended. (shrink)
Collective action is interpreted as a matter of people doing something together, and it is assumed that this involves their having a collective intention to do that thing together. The account of collective intention for which the author has argued elsewhere is presented. In terms that are explained, the parties are jointly committed to intend as a body that such-and-such. Collective action problems in the sense of rational choice theoryproblems such as the various forms of coordination problem and the (...) prisoners dilemmaare then considered. An explanation is given of how, when such a problem is interpreted in terms of the parties inclinations, a suitable collective intention resolves the problem for agents who are rational in a broad sense other than the technical sense of game theory. Key Words: rationality collective action collective intention joint commitment. (shrink)
This paper introduces the author's approach to everyday ascriptions of collective cognitive states as in such statements as we believe he is lying. Collective epistemology deals with these ascriptions attempting to understand them and the phenomena in question.
This article offers a critique of Thomas Scanlon's well-known account of promissory obligation by reference to the rights of promisees. Scanlon's account invokes a moral principle, the "principle of fidelity". Now, corresponding to a promisor's obligation to perform is a promisee's right to performance. It is argued that one cannot account for this right in terms of Scanlon's principle. This is so in spite of a clause in the principle relating to the promisee's "consent", which might have been thought to (...) do the trick. Most likely this argument can be applied to all "moral principle" accounts of promissory obligation. An alternative both to these and to "social practice" accounts is needed. (shrink)
Among other things, this paper considers what so-called collective guilt feelings amount to. If collective guilt feelings are sometimes appropriate, it must be the case that collectives can indeed be guilty. The paper begins with an account of what it is for a collective to intend to do something and to act in light of that intention. An account of collective guilt in terms of membership guilt feelings is found wanting. Finally, a "plural subject" account of collective guilt feelings is (...) articulated, such that they involve a joint commitment to feel guilt as a body. (shrink)
Can teams and other collectivities have preferences of their own, preferences that are not in some way reducible to the personal preferences of their members? In short, are collective preferences possible? In everyday life people speak easily of what we prefer, where what is at issue seems to be a collective preference. This is suggested by the acceptability of such remarks as ‘My ideal walk would be . . . along rougher and less well-marked paths than we prefer as a (...) family’. One can imagine, indeed, that each member of a given family prefers something other than what the family prefers. What, then, do the collective preferences of everyday understanding amount to? (shrink)
Numerous social and political theorists have referred to social groups or societies as “unities.” What makes a unity of a social group? I address this question with special reference to the theory of social groups proposed in my books On Social Facts and Living Together: Rationality, Sociality and Obligation. I argue that social groups of a central kind require an underlying “joint commitment.” I explain what I mean by a “joint commitment” with care. If joint commitments in my sense underlie (...) them, what kind of unity does this give social groups? In what sense or senses is it objective? (shrink)
Do people have obligations by virtue of the fact that a given country is their country? Actual contract theory says they do because they have agreed to act in certain ways. Contemporary philosophers standardly object in terms of the 'no agreement' objection and the 'not morally binding' objection. I argue that the 'not morally binding' objection is not conclusive. As for the 'no agreement' objection, though actual contract theory succumbs, a closely related plural subject theory of political obligation does not. (...) Plural subject theory may be the truth in actual contract theory and should be explored in its stead. (shrink)
This paper reviews some of the growing body of work in the analytic philosophy of social phenomena, with special reference to the question whether adequate accounts of particular social phenomena can be given in terms that are individualistic in a sense that is specified. The discussion focusses on accounts of what have come to be known as shared intention and action. There is also some consideration of accounts of social convention and collective belief. Particular attention is paid to the need (...) to explain the association of certain rights and obligations with the phenomena at issue. (shrink)
Can it ever be appropriate to feel guilt just because one's group has acted badly? Some say no, citing supposed features of guilt feelings as such. If one understands group action according to my plural subject account of groups, however, one can argue for the appropriateness of feeling guilt just because one's group has acted badly - a feeling that often occurs. In so arguing I sketch a plural subject account of groups, group intentions and group actions: for a group (...) to intend (in the relevant sense) is for its members to be jointly committed to intend that such-and-such as a body. Individual group members need not be directly involved in the formation of the intention in order to participate in such a joint commitment. The core concept of joint commitment is in an important way holistic, not being reducible to a set of personal commitments over which each party holds sway. (shrink)
The author develops and elaborates on her account of collective belief, something standardly referred to, in her view, when we speak of what we believe. This paper focuses on a special response hearers may experience in the context of expressions of belief, a response that may issue in offended rebukes to the speaker. It is argued that this response would be appropriate if both speakers and hearers were parties to what the authors calls a joint commitment to believe a certain (...) proposition as a body. This joint commitment puts speakers under an obligation to refrain from speaking in certain ways, and gives hearers a correlative right to such refraining, and hence a basis for offended rebukes. (shrink)
Different accounts of what it is for something to have a social nature have been given. Sociality does not appear to be a category worthy of philosophical focus, given some of these accounts. If sociality is construed as plural subjecthood, it emerges as a category crucial for our understanding of the human condition. Plural subjects are constituted by a joint commitment of two or more persons to do something as a body. Such commitments generate rights and obligations of a special (...) type, and underlie such phenomena as social conventions, agreements, shared action and social groups on one standard understanding of what these are. (shrink)
Typical agreements can be seen as joint decisions, inherently involving obligations of a distinctive kind. These obligations derive from the joint commitment' that underlies a joint decision. One consequence of this understanding of agreements and their obligations is that coerced agreements are possible and impose obligations. It is not that the parties to an agreement should always conform to it, all things considered. Unless one is released from the agreement, however, one has some reason to conform to it, whatever else (...) is true. In this sense, one is under an obligation to the other parties. The relevance of these points to the issue of political obligation is discussed. (shrink)
This paper challenges the common assumption that an agreement is an exchange of promises. Proposing that the performance obligations of some typical agreements are simultaneous, interdependent, and unconditional, it argues that no promise-exchange has this structure of obligations. In addition to offering general considerations in support of this claim, it examines various types of promise-exchange, showing that none satisfy the criteria noted. Two forms of conditional promise are distinguished and both forms are discussed. A positive account of agreements as joint (...) decisions founded in a joint commitment is sketched. It is argued that the example agreements represent especially clearly the normative structure of social union. (shrink)
Philosophers using game-theoretical models of human interactions have, I argue, often overestimated what sheer rationality can achieve. (References are made to David Gauthier, David Lewis, and others.) In particular I argue that in coordination problems rational agents will not necessarily reach a unique outcome that is most preferred by all, nor a unique 'coordination equilibrium' (Lewis), nor a unique Nash equilibrium. Nor are things helped by the addition of a successful precedent, or by common knowledge of generally accepted personal principles. (...) Commitments like those generated by agreements may be necessary for rational expectations to arise. Social conventions, construed as group principles (following the analysis in my book On Social Facts), would suffice for this task. (shrink)
The everyday concept of a social group is approached by examining the concept of going for a walk together, an example of doing something together, or "shared action". Two analyses requiring shared personal goals are rejected, since they fail to explain how people walking together have obligations and rights to appropriate behavior, and corresponding rights of rebuke. An alternative account is proposed: those who walk together must constitute the "plural subject" of a goal (roughly, their walking alongside each other). The (...) nature of plural subjecthood, the thesis that social groups are plural subjects, and the relation of these ideas to Rousseau's and Hobbes's, are briefly explored. (shrink)
A number of authors, Including Thomas Schelling and David Lewis, have envisaged a model of the generation of action in coordination problems in which salience plays a crucial role. Empirical studies suggest that human subjects are likely to try for the salient combination of actions, a tendency leading to fortunate results. Does rationality dictate that one aim at the salient combination? Some have thought so, Thus proclaiming that salience is all that is needed to resolve coordination problems for agents who (...) are rational in the sense of game theory. I argue against this position; rational agents will not necessarily aim for the salient. It remains to explain how the salient comes to be chosen by human beings. Various possibilities are noted. One involves a mechanism invoked by Hume and Wittgenstein in other contexts: we may project an unreasoned compulsion onto reason, falsely believing that rationality dictates our choice of the salient. (shrink)
What is it for a group to believe something? A summative account assumes that for a group to believe that p most members of the group must believe that p. Accounts of this type are commonly proposed in interpretation of everyday ascriptions of beliefs to groups. I argue that a nonsummative account corresponds better to our unexamined understanding of such ascriptions. In particular I propose what I refer to as the joint acceptance model of group belief. I argue that group (...) beliefs according to the joint acceptance model are important phenomena whose aetiology and development require investigation. There is an analogous phenomenon of social or group preference, which social choice theory tends to ignore. (shrink)
The question whether and in what way languages and language use involve convention is addressed, With special reference to David Lewis's account of convention in general. Data are presented which show that Lewis has not captured the sense of 'convention' involved when we speak of adopting a linguistic convention. He has, In effect, attempted an account of social conventions. An alternative account of social convention and an account of linguistic convention are sketched.
Two claims common in wittgenstein exegesis are addressed, With special reference to a well-known discussion by Peter Winch. First: the claim that one person's language must be intelligible to another is ambiguous; one interpretation is intuitively plausible; strong, Less plausible versions are ascribed to Wittgenstein. Inattention to the ambiguity noted could facilitate their acceptance. Second: the claim that the necessity for standards of correctness in the use of language has as a direct consequence the need for social standards is false (...) and probably misrepresents Wittgenstein. (shrink)
A feature of David Lewis's account of conventions in his book "Convention" which has received admiring notices from philosophers is his use of the mathematical theory of games. In this paper I point out a number of serious flaws in Lewis's use of game theory. Lewis's basic claim is that conventions cover 'coordination problems'. I show that game-Theoretical analysis tends to establish that coordination problems in Lewis's sense need not underlie conventions.
Towards an account of character traits in self-Knowledge, With an assessment of the sartrean thesis ("spectatorism") that character trait concepts are fitted for other-Ascription rather than self-Ascription. The logic of ascriptions of evil character and specific vices is dealt with. The relationship of self-Ascription to self-Falsification and "seeing oneself as an object" is examined. Self-Ascription has peculiarities, But at most a very mild form of spectatorism is born out.