Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 99–120 | Cite as

How to share a mind: Reconsidering the group mind thesis



Standard accounts in social ontology and the group cognition debate have typically focused on how collective modes, types, and contents of intentions or representational states must be construed so as to constitute the jointness of the respective agents, cognizers, and their engagements. However, if we take intentions, beliefs, or mental representations all to instantiate some mental properties, then the more basic issue regarding such collective engagements is what it is for groups of individual minds to share a mind. Somewhat surprisingly, this very issue has not received much attention in the respective debates and when it has, typically the outlook has been skeptical or outright negative. In this paper, I argue that it is epistemologically possible for a group of individuals to literally share a single mental unit. In particular, I will put forward and defend what I shall call the zombie conception of group minds.


Social ontology Collective intentionality Group minds Group cognition Collective Consciousness Anti-individualism 



I have presented earlier versions of this paper at the 2012 Conference of the Austrian Society of Philosophy (ÖGP) in Vienna, at the 2012 Meeting of the European Network on Social Ontology in Rome, and at colloquia at the Universities of Vienna and Klagenfurt. I have received valuable comments from the audiences at these events. For their comments on various drafts, I am especially indebted to Tim Burns, Wolfgang Fasching, Sophie Loidolt, Cathal O’Madagain, David Schweikard, Lukas Schwengerer, the editors of this special issue, Alessandro Salice, and Luca Tummolini, as well as two anonymous reviewers.


  1. Adams, F., & Aizawa, K. (2001). The bounds of cognition. Philosophical Psychology, 14(1), 43–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akkerman, S., Van den Bossche, P., Admiraal, W., Gijselaers, W., Segres, M., Simons, R.-J., & Kirschner, P. (2007). Reconsidering group cognition: from conceptual confusion to a boundary area between cognitive and socio-cultural perspectives? Educational Research Review, 2(1), 39–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baber, C., Smith, P., Cross, J., Hunter, J., & McMaster, R. (2006). Crime scene investigation as distributed cognition. Pragmatics and Cognition, 14(2), 357–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baier, A. (1997). Doing things with others: the mental commons. In L. Alanen, S. Heinämaa, & T. Wallgren (Eds.), Commonality and particularity in ethics (pp. 15–44). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  5. Barnier, A. J., Sutton, J., Harries, C. B., & Wilson, R. A. (2008). A conceptual and empirical framework for the social distribution of cognition: the case of memory. Cognitive Systems Research, 9(1/2), 33–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blomberg, O. (2009). Do socio-technical systems cognise? Proceedings of the 2nd Symposium on Computing and Philosophy: A Symposium at the AISB 2009 Convention (69 April 2009), 3–9.Google Scholar
  7. Bosse, T., Jonker, C., Shut, M., & Treur, J. (2006). Collective representational content for shared extended mind. Cognitive Systems Research, 7(2/3), 151–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bratman, M. (1992). Shared cooperative activity. Philosophical Review, 101(2), 327–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bratman, M. (1993). Shared intention. Ethics, 104(1), 97–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bratman, M. (1997). I intend that we J. In R. Tuomela & G. Holstrom-Hintikka (Eds.), Contemporary action theory, vol. 2: social action (pp. 49–63). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  11. Brooks, D. H. M. (1986). Group minds. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 64(4), 456–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chalmers, D. (1996). The conscious mind: in search of a fundamental theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Clark, A. (1994). Beliefs and desires incorporated. The Journal of Philosophy, 91(8), 404–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cohen, J. L. (1989). Belief and acceptance. Mind, 98(391), 367–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Currie, G. (1984). Individualism and global supervenience. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 35(4), 345–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Evans, G. (1982). The varieties of reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. French, P. A. (1979). The corporation as a moral person. American Philosophical Quarterly, 16(3), 207–215.Google Scholar
  18. Gallagher, S. (2013). The socially extended mind. Cognitive Systems Research. doi: 10.1016/j.cogsys.2013.03.008.
  19. Giere, R. N. (2007). Distributed cognition without distributed knowing. Social Epistemology, 21(3), 313–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gilbert, M. (1989). On social facts. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gilbert, M. (1997). What is it for us to intend? In R. Tuomela & G. Holstrom-Hintikka (Eds.), Contemporary action theory, vol. 2.: social action (pp. 65–85). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  22. Gilbert, M. (2003). Collective belief and acceptance. Protosociology, 16, 35–69.Google Scholar
  23. Gilbert, M. (2004). Collective epistemology. Episteme, 1(2), 95–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gilbert, M. (2006). A theory of political obligation: membership, commitment and the bonds of society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gilbert, M. (2009). Shared intention and personal intention. Philosophical Studies, 144(1), 167–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gold, N., & Sudgen, R. (2007). Collective intentions and team agency. The Journal of Philosophy, 104(3), 109–137.Google Scholar
  27. Goldstone, R., Roberts, M. E., & Gureckis, T. M. (2008). Emergent processes in group behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(1), 10–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Grosz, B., & Hunsberger, L. (2006). The dynamics of intention in collaborative activity. Cognitive Systems Research, 7(2/3), 259–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gureckis, T. M., & Goldstone, R. (2006). Thinking in groups. Pragmatics and Cognition, 14(2), 293–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gureckis, T. M., & Goldstone, R. (2009). Collective behavior. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(3), 412–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Harnad, S. (2005). Distributed processes, distributed cognizers, and collaborative cognition. Pragmatics and Cognition, 13(3), 501–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hinsz, B. V., Vollrath, D. A., & Tindale, R. S. (1997). The emerging conceptualization of groups as information processors. Psychological Bulletin, 121(1), 43–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Huebner, B. (2008). Do you see what we see? An investigation of an argument against collective representation. Philosophical Psychology, 21(1), 91–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Huebner, B. (2011a). Minimal minds. In L. Beauchamp Tom & L. G. Frey (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of animal ethics (pp. 441–468). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Huebner, B. (2011b). Genuinely collective emotions. European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 1(1), 89–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Huebner, B., Bruno, M., & Sarkissian, H. (2010). What does the nation of China think about phenomenal states? Review of Philosophical Psychology, 1(2), 225–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  38. Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink. Boston: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  39. List, C., & Pettit, P. (2011). Group agency: the possibility, design, and status of corporate agents. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. MacKay, W. E. (1999). Is paper safer? The role of paper flight strips in air traffic control. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 6(4), 311–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mathiesen, K. (2005). Collective consciousness. In D. W. Smith & A. L. Thomasson (Eds.), Phenomenology and philosophy of mind (pp. 235–250). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Meijers, A. W. M. (2003). Can collective intentionality be individualized? American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 62(1), 167–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Miller, S. (2001). Social action: a teleological account. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. O’Madagain, C. (2012). Group agents: persons, mobs, or zombies? International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 20(2), 271–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pettit, P. (2003a). Groups with minds of their own. In F. Schmitt (Ed.), Socializing metaphysics (pp. 167–193). New York: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  46. Pettit, P. (2003b). Akrasia, collective and individual. In S. Stroud & C. Tappolet (Eds.), Weakness of will and practical irrationality (pp. 68–96). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pettit, P., & Schweikard, D. (2006). Joint actions and group agents. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 36(1), 18–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Poirier, P., & Chicoisne, G. (2006). A framework for thinking about distributed cognition. Pragmatics and Cognition, 14(2), 215–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Quinton, A. (1975/76). Social objects. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 76, 1–27.Google Scholar
  50. Rosenthal, D. (1990). A theory of consciousness. In N. Block, O. Flanagan, & G. Güzeldere (Eds.), The nature of consciousness: philosophical debates (pp. 729–754). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  51. Rovane, C. (1998). The bounds of agency: an essay in revisionary metaphysics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Rovane, C. (2004). Alienation and the alleged separateness of persons. The Monist, 87(4), 554–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rupert, R. D. (2005). Minding one’s cognitive systems: when does a group of minds constitute a single cognitive unit? Episteme, 1(3), 177–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rupert, R. D. (2009). Cognitive systems and the extended mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rupert, R. D. (2011). Empirical arguments for group minds: a critical appraisal. Philosophy Compass, 6(9), 630–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Salmela, M. (2012). Shared emotions. Philosophical Explorations, 15(1), 33–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schmid, H. B. (2009). Plural action: essays in philosophy and social science. Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schmid, H. B. (2013). Plural self-awareness. In Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (this issue).Google Scholar
  59. Schmitt, F. (2003). Joint action from individualism to supra-individualism. In F. Schmitt (Ed.), Socializing metaphysics (pp. 129–165). New York: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  60. Shoemaker, S. (1968). Self-reference and self-awareness. The Journal of Philosophy, 65(19), 555–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Smith, E. R. (2007). Social relationships and groups: new insights on embodied and distributed cognition. Cognitive Systems Research, 9(1/2), 24–32.Google Scholar
  62. Searle, J. (1990). Collective intentions and actions. In P. Cohen, J. Morgan, & M. E. Pollack (Eds.), Intentions in communication (pp. 401–415). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  63. Searle, J. (1992). The rediscovery of the mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  64. Searle, J. (2010). Making the social world: the structure of human civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Sheehy, P. (2006). The reality of social groups. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  66. Stoutland, F. (1997). Why are philosophers of action so anti-social? In L. Alanen, S. Heinämaa, & T. Wallgren (Eds.), Commonality and particularity in ethics (pp. 45–74). Basingstoke: Palgrave/Macmillan.Google Scholar
  67. Stoutland, F. (2008). The ontology of social action. Analyse und Kritik, 28, 533–551.Google Scholar
  68. Sunstein, C. R. (2002). The law of group polarization. Journal of Political Philosophy, 10(2), 175–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sutton, J. (2006). Distributed cognition: domains and dimensions. Pragmatics and Cognition, 14(2), 235–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sutton, J., Harris, C. B., Keil, P. G., & Barnier, A. J. (2010). The psychology of memory, extended cognition, and socially distributed remembering. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 9(4), 521–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Szanto, T. (2012). Bewusstsein, Intentionalität und mentale Repräsentation. Husserl und die analytische Philosophie des Geistes. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Theiner, G., Allen, C., & Goldstone, R. (2010). Recognizing group cognition. Cognitive Systems Research, 11(4), 378–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Theiner, G., & O’Connor, T. (2010). The emergence of group cognition. In A. Corradini & T. O’Connor (Eds.), Emergence in science and philosophy (pp. 79–117). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  74. Thompson, L., & Fine, G. A. (1999). Socially Shared Cognition, Affect, and Behavior: A Review and Integration. In Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3(4), 278–302.Google Scholar
  75. Tollefsen, D. (2002a). Collective intentionality and the social sciences. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 32(1), 25–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Tollefsen, D. (2002b). Organizations as true believers. Journal of Social Philosophy, 33(3), 395–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Tollefsen, D. (2002c). Challenging epistemological individualism. Protosociology, 16, 86–117.Google Scholar
  78. Tollefsen, D. (2003). Rejecting rejectionism. Protosociology, 18(19), 389–408.Google Scholar
  79. Tollefsen, D. (2006). From extended mind to collective mind. Cognitive Systems Research, 7(2/3), 140–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Tuomela, R. (1989). Collective action, supervenience, and constitution. Synthese, 80(2), 243–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Tuomela, R. (2000). Belief vs. acceptance. Philosophical Explorations, 3(2), 122–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Tuomela, R. (2007). The philosophy of sociality: the shared point of view. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Tuomela, R. (2013). Who is afraid of group agents and group minds? In M. Schmitz, B. Kobow, & H. B. Schmid (Eds.), The background of social reality: selected contributions from the inaugural meeting of ENSO (pp. 13–36). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  84. Velleman, D. (1997). How to share an intention. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 57(1), 29–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wegner, D. M. (1987). Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. In B. Mullen & G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Theories of group behavior. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  86. Wilson, R. A. (2004). Boundaries of the mind: the individual in the fragile sciences—cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Wilson, R. A. (2005). Collective memory, group minds, and the extended mind thesis. Cognitive Processing, 6(4), 22–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Wray, K. B. (2001). Collective belief and acceptance. Synthese, 129(3), 319–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Waytz, A., & Young, L. (2012). The group-member mind trade-off: attributing mind to groups versus group members. Psychological Science, 23(1), 77–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyUniversity College DublinDublin 4Ireland

Personalised recommendations