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From Team Reasoning to Shared Intention

Does reflection on team reasoning enable us to understand shared intention and thereby solve The Problem of Joint Action? In this section introduces Pacherie (2013)’s proposal. It also highlights four questions for proponents of team-reasoning based accounts of shared intention.

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This section depends on you having studied some sections from a previous lecture:


Why investigate another theory of shared intention? On possible reason is dissatisfaction with the first theory we encountered (in Bratman on Shared Intentional Action):

‘I am skeptical that all intentional joint actions require the sophistication in ascribing propositional attitudes that Bratman’s account appears to demand. To motivate this skepticism, I’ll turn to [...] empirical evidence that young children engage in what appears to be intentional joint action despite lacking this conceptual sophistication.’ (Pacherie, 2013, p. 2)


Whereas Gold & Sugden (2007) aim to completely replace other theories of shared intention, Pacherie (2013) suggests that we may need more than one such theory (presumably she holds that there are multiple kinds of shared intention):

‘a modest or ‘lite’ notion of shared intention, less cognitively demanding than what the analyses proposed by leading philosophical accounts suggest and constituting a plausible basis from which more sophisticated forms of shared intentions can [...] emerge’ (Pacherie, 2013, p. 2)

Pacherie’s ‘shared intention lite’

‘Two persons P1 and P2 share an intention to A, if:

(i) each has a self-conception as a member of the team T, consisting of P1 and P2 (collective self-framing); (i’) each believes (i) (group identification expectation);

(ii) each reasons that A is the best choice of action for the team (team reasoning from a group viewpoint); and

(iii) each therefore intends to do his part of A (team reasoning from an individual viewpoint).’ (Pacherie, 2013 see also Gold & Sugden, 2007; Pacherie, 2011)

Bratman’s Response

Pacherie’s account is one on which what makes something a shared intention is the (team) reasoning which gave rise to it. Bratman responds:

‘my thought, in contrast, is that in order to articulate various forms of reasoning that can legitimately issue in a shared intention we need to know what work shared intentions do, and so we need to articulate their downstream roles and associated norms.’ (Bratman, 2014, p. 168 (footnote 72))

Sources for Further Research

Gold & Sugden (2007) give an account of shared intention involving team reasoning. (Roughly, shared intentions are ordinary individual intentions; the difference is just that the shared intentions are formed as a consequence of team reasoning.)

Pacherie (2013) gives an alternative account of shared intention involving team reasoning.

Gold & Sugden (2007) and Pacherie (2013) both offer objections to Bratman on Shared Intentional Action.

Bratman (2014, pp. 95--6) replies to Gold & Sugden (2007)’s objection (do read the footnotes, that’s where much of the substance is).

On what might prompt agents to engage in team reasoning, Hindriks (2012) critically discusses both Bacharach’s and Sugden’s different views.

Bermúdez (2020, p. 188ff) offers ‘two very significant difficulties for Bacharach’s theory’ of team reasoning. This discussion is not directly relevant to Gold & Sugden (2007) and Pacherie (2013).

Other Approaches to Joint Action

There are a wide range of other approaches to characterising joint action which are not covered in these lectures but are relevant to the syllabus.

Gilbert (1990); Gilbert (2013) develops an alternative to Bratman based on her notion of joint commitment.

It may be that Tuomela & Miller (1988) and Searle (1990)’s response initiated contemporary debate. (Brooks (1981) does not appear to have been considered.)

Many philosophers agree that distinguishing acting jointly from acting in parallel but merely individually involves invoking states of the agents who are acting jointly, often dubbed ‘we-’, ‘shared’ or ‘collective intentions’ 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).

No all philosophers invoke shared intention to explicate joint action. Petersson (2007, p. 138), for instance, attempts to explicate the distinction between acting jointly and acting in parallel but merely individually ‘in terms of dispositions and causal agency’. See also Chant (2007) for another alternative line.

Miller (2001) is unusual in focussing first on ends (which I label goals) rather than starting with some kind of intention or other mental state.

Ludwig (2007); Ludwig (2016) offers a distinctive approach based on semantic analysis. Although this is sometimes viewed as a variant of Bratman’s theory, Ludwig and Bratman probably disagree on fundamental issues about what a theory of joint action is supposed to achieve. Helpfully, Ludwig (2015) has discussed Bratman.

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More information about asking questions.


goal : A goal of an action is an outcome to which it is directed.
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.)
team reasoning : ‘somebody team reasons if she works out the best possible feasible combination of actions for all the members of her team, then does her part in it’ (Bacharach, 2006, p. 121).
The Problem of Joint Action : What distinguishes doing something jointly with another person from acting in parallel with them but merely side by side?


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