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Pacherie’s Objection to Bratman on Shared Intention

Pacherie (2013, p. 2) objects to Bratman (2014)’s theory of shared intention on the grounds that not ‘intentional joint actions require the sophistication in ascribing propositional attitudes that Bratman’s account appears to demand.’ What is this objection and what is the evidence for it?

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This an optional section that may move to a later lecture. It’s here now because I might use it in response to a question.

Pacherie (2013)’s objection slightly modified:

  1. Bratman (2014)’s account[1] requires sophistication in coordinating planning.

  2. There is an age at which children engage in joint action

  3. while lacking this sophistication.

∴ Not all joint action involves the shared intentions Bratman characterises.

If the objection succeeds, it provides reason to prefer Pacherie (2013, p. 18)’s team-reasoning-based account of shared intention over Bratman (2014)’s. This is because the former does not require sophistication in coordinating planning.

Premise 2: One- and Two-Year-Olds Are Capable of Performing Joint Actions

A variety of evidence indicates that although they have quite limited capacities to coordinate their actions with others, even fourteen-month-olds will spontaneously initiate joint action with an adult. Children of around this age also demonstrate awareness in the context of joint action that success requires another person’s contribution.

Carpenter makes a strong case for the claim that one- and two-year-olds are capable of performing joint actions:

‘By 12–18 months, infants are beginning to participate in a variety of joint actions which show many of the characteristics of adult joint action.’ (Carpenter, 2009, p. 388)

As does Brownell:

‘infants learn about cooperation by participating in joint action structured by skilled and knowledgeable interactive partners before they can represent, understand, or generate it themselves. Cooperative joint action develops in the context of dyadic interaction with adults in which the adult initially takes responsibility for and actively structures the joint activity and the infant progressively comes to master the structure, timing, and communications involved in the joint action with the support and guidance of the adult. ... Eager participants from the beginning, it takes approximately 2 years for infants to become autonomous contributors to sustained, goal-directed joint activity as active, collaborative partners’ (Brownell, 2011, p. 200).

Premise 3: One- and Two-Year-Olds Do Not Coordinate Their Plans with Yours

The hypothesis that one- and two-year-olds have shared intentions as characterised by Bratman generates a prediction: since a function of shared intention is to coordinate planning, children of this age should be capable, at least in some minimally demanding situations, of coordinating their plans with another’s.

Is the prediction correct?

There is good evidence that even 3-year-olds’ abilities to coordinate plans are quite limited. For instance:

‘3- and 5-year-old children do not consider another person’s actions in their own action planning (while showing action planning when acting alone on the apparatus). Seven-year-old children and adults however, demonstrated evidence for joint action planning. ... While adult participants demonstrated the presence of joint action planning from the very first trials onward, this was not the case for the 7-year-old children who improved their performance across trials.’ (Paulus, 2016, p. 1059)


‘proactive planning for two individuals, even when they share a common goal, is more difficult than planning ahead solely for oneself’ (Gerson, Bekkering, & Hunnius, 2016, p. 128).

There is a review of evidence that the prediction is falsified in Butterfill (2020, p. Chapter 15).

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joint action : Many of the things we do are, or could be, done with others. Mundane examples favoured by philosophers include painting a house together (Bratman, 1992), lifting a heavy sofa together (Velleman, 1997), preparing a hollandaise sauce together (Searle, 1990), going to Chicago together (Kutz, 2000), and walking together (Gilbert, 1990). These examples are supposed to be paradigm cases of a class of phenomena we shall call ‘joint actions’.
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, 2009b; 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.
shared intention : An attitude that stands to joint action as ordinary, individual intention stands to ordinary, individual action. It is hard to find consensus on what shared intention is, but most agree that it is neither shared nor intention. (Variously called ‘collective’, ‘we-’ and ‘joint’ intention.)


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  1. See Bratman on Shared Intentional Action. ↩︎