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This is a problem. Everyone agrees that shared intentions stand to joint actions roughly as intentions stand to ordinary, individual actions. Most also agree that shared intentions are neither shared nor intentions. But apart from that, there is much disagreement about what shared intentions are.
Some hold that the states in question involve a novel attitude (Searle, 1990; Gallotti & Frith, 2013). Others have explored the notion that the primary distinguishing feature of these states is not the kind of attitude involved but rather the kind of subject, which is plural (Helm, 2008). Or they may differ from ordinary intentions in involving distinctive obligations or commitments to others (Gilbert, 1992; Roth, 2004). Or perhaps the most fundamental distinguishing mark of these states is the way they arise, namely through team reasoning (Gold & Sugden, 2007; Pacherie, 2013). Opposing all such views, Bratman (1992); Bratman (2014) argues that the distinctive states, which he calls `shared intentions', can be realised by multiple ordinary individual intentions and other attitudes whose contents interlock in a distinctive way. Bratman’s approach has inspired a family of accounts along broadly these lines, including Asarnow (2020), Blomberg (2016), Ludwig (2007); Ludwig (2016) and Tollefsen (2005).
How are we to determine when any two of these accounts should be regarded as competing attempts to characterise a single phenomenon and when they should be regarded as compatible attempts to characterise different phenomena? And how are we to single out, from among all of these accounts, those which are correct? The growing number and increasing diversity of accounts make urgent these twin problems. It may be that they can be solved. But a quick glance at the history of philosophy suggests not.
Postulating shared intention should therefore be a last resort.
But if you are forced to postulate shared intention, it is essential to be familiar with the leading, most carefully developed account of it: Bratman on Shared Intentional Action.
Is Bratman’s account ‘a model [...] that can support wide-ranging research in philosophy and the social sciences’ (Bratman, 2022, p. 8)? If not, is there a better alternative?
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Researchers have used a variety of labels including ‘joint action’ (Brooks, 1981; Sebanz, Bekkering, & Knoblich, 2006; Knoblich, Butterfill, & Sebanz, 2011; Tollefsen, 2005; Pettit & Schweikard, 2006; Carpenter, 2009; Pacherie, 2010; Brownell, 2011; Sacheli, Arcangeli, & Paulesu, 2018; Meyer, Wel, & Hunnius, 2013), ‘social action’ (Tuomela & Miller, 1985), ‘collective action’ (Searle, 1990; Gilbert, 2010), ‘joint activity’ (Baier, 1997), ‘acting together’ (Tuomela, 2000), ‘shared intentional activity’ (Bratman, 1997), ‘plural action’ (Schmid, 2008), ‘joint agency’ (Pacherie, 2013), ‘small scale shared agency’ (Bratman, 2014), ‘intentional joint action’ (Blomberg, 2016), ‘collective intentional behavior’ (Ludwig, 2016), and ‘collective activity’ (Longworth, 2019).
We leave open whether these are all labels for a single phenomenon or whether different researchers are targeting different things. As we use ‘joint action’, the term applies to everything any of these labels applies to.
As you may remember (from The Problem of Action meets Habitual Processes), reflection on the dual-process theory of instrumental action suggests that most philosophers are wrong about how intentions stand to ordinary, individual actions. (Incidentally, there may even be an analogous consideration concerning joint action: what Sebanz, Knoblich, & Prinz (2005) call ‘task co-representation’ is, essentially, a stimlus--action mapping where the mapped action involves your action and mine.) ↩︎
Again, the joint seems parallel to the individual in this respect: there are grounds for the view that postulating intention should be a last resort too. ↩︎