We propose that the crucial difference between human cognition and that of other species is the ability to participate with others in collaborative activities with shared goals and intentions: shared intentionality. Participation in such activities requires not only especially powerful forms of intention reading and cultural learning, but also a unique motivation to share psychological states with others and unique forms of cognitive representation for doing so. The result of participating in these activities is species-unique forms of cultural cognition and (...) evolution, enabling everything from the creation and use of linguistic symbols to the construction of social norms and individual beliefs to the establishment of social institutions. In support of this proposal we argue and present evidence that great apes understand the basics of intentional action, but they still do not participate in activities involving joint intentions and attention. Human children's skills of shared intentionality develop gradually during the first 14 months of life as two ontogenetic pathways intertwine: the general ape line of understanding others as animate, goal-directed, and intentional agents; and a species-unique motivation to share emotions, experience, and activities with other persons. The developmental outcome is children's ability to construct dialogic cognitive representations, which enable them to participate in earnest in the collectivity that is human cognition. Key Words: collaboration; cooperation; cultural learning; culture; evolutionary psychology; intentions; shared intentionality; social cognition; social learning; theory of mind; joint attention. (shrink)
Current debates on collective intentionality focus on the cognitive capacities, attitudes, and mental states that enable individuals to take part in joint actions. It is typically assumed that collective intentionality is a capacity which is added to other, pre-existing, capacities of an individual and is exercised in cooperative activities like carrying a table or painting a house together. We call this the additive account because it portrays collective intentionality as a capacity that an individual possesses in addition to her capacity (...) for individual intentionality. We offer an alternative view according to which the primary entity to which collective intentionality has to be ascribed is not the human individual, but a “form of life.” As a feature of a form of life, collective intentionality is something more than the specific capacity exercised by an individual when she cooperates with others. Collective intentionality transforms all the capacities of the bearers of this specific form of life. We thus call our proposal the transformative account of collective intentionality. (shrink)
This study examined 4-year-olds’ problem-solving under different social conditions. Children had to use water in order to extract a buoyant object from a narrow tube. When faced with the problem ‘cold’ without cues, nearly all children were unsuccessful. But when a solution-suggesting video was pedagogically delivered prior to the task, most children succeeded. Showing children the same video in a non-pedagogical manner did not lift their performance above baseline and was less effective than framing it pedagogically. The findings support ideas (...) central to natural pedagogy, 148–153, 2009). They also challenge the Cultural Intelligence hypothesis, according to which only humans’ social, but not their physical, cognition differs qualitatively from that of great apes. A more radical, transformative variant of the Cultural Intelligence hypothesis is suggested according to which humans’ physical cognition is shaped by their social nature and must therefore be recognized as equally distinctive as their social cognition. (shrink)
This essay discusses Cecilia Heyes’ groundbreaking new book Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking. Heyes’ point of departure is the claim that current theories of cultural evolution fail adequately to make a place for the mind. Heyes articulates a cognitive psychology of cultural evolution by explaining how eponymous “cognitive gadgets,” such as imitation, mindreading and language, mental technologies, are “tuned” and “assembled” through social interaction and cultural learning. After recapitulating her explanations for the cultural and psychological origins of these (...) gadgets, we turn to criticisms. Among those, we find Heyes’ use of evolutionary theory confusing on several points of importance; alternative theories of cultural evolution, especially those of the Tomasello group and of Boyd, Richerson and Henrich, are misrepresented; the book neglects joint attention and other forms of intersubjectivity in its explanation of the origins of cognitive gadgets; and, whereas Heyes accuses other theories of being “mindblind,” we find her theory ironically other-blind and autistic in character. (shrink)
Osiurak and Reynaud argue that cumulative technological culture is made possible by a “non-social cognitive structure” and they offer an account that aims “to escape from the social dimension” of human cognition. We challenge their position by arguing that human technical rationality is unintelligible outside of our species' uniquely social form of life, which is defined by shared intentionality :319–37; Tomasello 2019a, Becoming human: A theory of ontogeny. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press).
In this article, we postulate that belief understanding unfolds in two steps over ontogenetic time. We propose that belief understanding begins in interactive scenarios in which infants and toddlers respond directly and second-personally to the actions of a misinformed agent. This early understanding of beliefs is practical and grounded in the capacity for perspective-taking. Practical belief understanding guarantees effective interaction and communication with others who are acting on false assumptions. In a second step, children, at preschool age, acquire the capacity (...) to reflect on and arrive at third-personal judgments about a misinformed agent’s perspective. This capacity is theoretical and grounded in the ability to “confront” perspectives. It allows children to understand that beliefs can misrepresent the state of the world and to predict what (past, future, or hypothetical) actions follow from these beliefs. We conclude with ideas on how practical perspective-taking develops into theoretical perspective-confronting in early ontogeny. (shrink)
In his recent book “Becoming Human” Michael Tomasello delivers an updated version of his shared intentionality (SI) account of uniquely human cognition. More so than in earlier writings, the author embraces the idea that SI shapes not just our social cognition but all domains of thought and emotion. In this critical essay, we center on three parts of his theory. The first is that children allegedly have to earn the status of “second persons” through the acquisition of collective intentionality at (...) age 3. We make the case that humans take a second-personal stance toward others even as infants. The second point concerns Tomasello’s claim that 3-year-olds are group-minded and think in terms of “us” vs. “them”. We doubt both that children this young have a clear overview of their in- and out-groups and that they possess the “agonistic spirit” necessary for inter-group competition. Third, due to his focus on collective intentionality and how it might explain 3-year-olds’ difficulties with theory of mind problems, Tomasello appears to pay less attention to the crucial conceptual change that allows 4- to 5-year-olds to master such tasks. (shrink)
The topic of this article is the ontogenetic development of an understanding of perception and of different subjects’ perspectives. We discuss the importance of alternating and explicating the different perspectives involved in joint object reference in hopes to get a better grip on what is actually meant by the metaphor of “putting oneself in someone else’s mental shoes” and on how such an ability might be acquired. Hegel’s (1820/2009, §260)principle of subjectivity states that no one can ever step outside of (...) her subjective perspective. Thinking about another’s thoughts or perspectives is not first of all a psychological process of getting into or reading someone else’s mind. Rather, it is the internalization of a possible symbolic action qua form, which, like speech, has commonly intelligible content (Hegel 1820/2009, §§110, 111). Our investigations show that an understanding of other persons and their subjective access to the world has its origin in experiences of joint attention and joint action. By jointly acting with others, even infants can acquire practical knowledge of others’ relations to objects. Only much later do children come to understand others’ thoughts that are not actualized in action. (shrink)