Titus Stahl

New book chapter: The Conditions of Collectivity

A new book chapter written by me has appeared online as part of the book “Institutions, Emotions, and Group Agents” (Anita Konzelmann Ziv, Hans Bernhard Schmid eds., Studies in the Philosophy of Sociality, Volume 2, Dordrecht: Springer, 2014, pp. 229-244).

The chapter takes up Robert Brandom’s idea that the content of individual discursive commitments is dependent on participation in social practices and transfers this argument onto the level of joint commitments (i.e., collective intentional states). I argue that one dilemma of joint intentionality theories — concerning the question of why collective intentional states, if they are not just a sum of individual intentional states, should be relevant for individual agents — can only be solved if the theory presupposes the commitment of individual agents to participation in social practices in which joint commitments are ascribed.


Collective intentionality is one of the most fundamental notions in social ontology. However, it is often thought to refer to a capacity which does not presuppose the existence of any other social facts. This chapter critically examines this view from the perspective of one specific theory of collective intentionality, the theory of Margaret Gilbert. On the basis of Gilbert’s arguments, the chapter claims that collective intentionality is a highly contingent achievement of complex social practices and, thus, not a basic social phenomenon. The argument proceeds in three steps. First, Gilbert’s thesis that certain kinds of collective intentionality presuppose joint normative commitments is introduced. Second, it is argued that, on this view, individual commitments can only constitute the relevant kinds of collective intentional states if there are socially shared “principles of membership” that connect the force of individual commitments to a shared content. Third, it is shown that strong collective intentionality depends on the practical acceptance of shared norms and on the establishment of authority relations through mutual recognition.

Continue reading at the Springer website (no open access version available, unfortunately).