Recall that according to summativist rejectionists talk of group beliefs is purely metaphorical and just an indirect way of talking about the beliefs of some of its members. This general picture, on which only individuals have genuine cognitive states, is likely to play a central role in how summativist rejectionists will respond to the Argument From Interpretationism. Below I will outline two different ways in which summativist rejectionists might respond to it.
The Target Challenge
The first option for summativist is to question whose behaviour we are actually interpreting orð predicting when we seemingly interpret or predict what some group is likely going to do. The Argument From Interpretationism of course assumes that we interpret or predict the behaviour of the group itself, but summativist rejectionists might reasonably challenge this assumption. More specifically, summativist rejectionists might argue that although we sometimes talk as if we are interpreting or predicting the behaviour of groups, what we are really interpreting and predicting in these cases is simply the behaviour of some of its members. Let’s call this the Target Challenge. For example, consider again Tollefsen’s two examples discussed earlier, Navy and Ford. summativist rejectionists might argue that we can explain why the Navy sometimes fires at other ships or predict that Ford will discount its large vehicles because we can interpret or predict the behaviour of some of its operative members – i.e. members that are responsible for, or particularly involved in, decision making.Footnote 21 For the two groups in question – the Navy and Ford Motor Company – the operative members might be high-ranking navy officers and Ford executives respectively.Footnote 22
At the heart of the Target Challenge is the following competing conjecture.
Competing conjecture When we explain or predict the actions of some gr – e.g. the Navy or the Ford Motor Company – we are only doing so indirectly; the behaviour that we are directly interpreting or predicting from the intentional stance is that of some of its membe – e.g. that of high-ranking navy officers or that of Ford executives.
If this competing conjecture is correct, then interpretationism would only support the claim that some members of the group have cognitive states like beliefs, which is of course uncontroversial. But it wouldn’t follow that the group itself has any beliefs. In fact, all that summativist rejectionists need is that their competing conjecture be at least as plausible as the believer’s claim that we can interpret or predict the behaviour of groups directly; and I take it that this is the case. Believers would have to somehow show why the competing conjecture is untenable. Importantly however, we don’t need to leave things here. Below I will offer an argument in support of Competing Conjecture.
Let’s start by considering the following case. You are driving down the road with another car in front of you. Now, as is to be expected, you will be able to make a lot of accurate predictions about what the car is going to do. For instance, you’ll be able to reliably predict when the car is going to stop (e.g. at red lights), when it is going to start up again (e.g. when the light turns green), when it is likely to go fast (e.g. when there’s little traffic), when it is going to go slow (e.g. when there’s lots of traffic), etc. But, of course no one would seriously conclude from this that the car in front of you therefore has beliefs. Why would we not draw this conclusion? Presumably because we acknowledge that it is not really the behaviour of the car itself that we are predicting but the behaviour of the driver. And that the driver has the relevant beliefs is of course something everyone will likely accept. These considerations point towards a more general constraint on the use of the intentional strategy along the following lines.
Target condition When we reliably interpret or predict the behaviour of some system X, but some distinct system Y is somehow responsible for the behaviour of X, then we are in fact reliably interpreting or predicting the behaviour of Y and are only indirectly (if at all) interpreting the behaviour of X.Footnote 23
An important question then is whether in the case of groups we have reason to believe that there is some other system that is ultimately responsible for its behaviour. And here summativist rejectionists may point out that the behaviour of a group is ultimately determined by the decisions of at least some of its members. For instance, in Navy it seems plausible that certain high-ranking officers are ultimately responsible for the actions of the navy. Similarly, in Ford it seems plausible that some of Ford’s executives are responsible for the company’s discounting/pricing decisions. Indeed, we may think that the operative members of these groups are relevantly similar to the driver of the car above: both of them are ultimately responsible for the behaviour of the systems of which they are in charge. Hence, summativist rejectionists may appeal to the Target Condition to support their competing conjecture and ultimately to reject (P2) of the Argument From Interpretationism.Footnote 24
The predictive power challenge
The second objection is very different from the first. Unlike the Target Challenge, it is not concerned with whose behaviour we are actually predicting when we apply the intentional strategy to groups. Instead, this objection holds that even if we were to concede that we sometimes really do apply the intentional stance directly to groups (rather than to some of its members) in order to predict their behaviour, once the interpretationist proposal has been sufficiently clarified it still wouldn’t follow that groups are genuine believers.
Note that in its slogan form – all there is to being a genuine believer is to be interpretable (or predictable) from the intentional stance – interpretationism would have the consequence that almost anything qualifies as a believer. For instance, we could use the intentional stance to predict the behaviour of simple organisms like clams and insects, plants, and even artifacts and inanimate objects like heat-seeking missiles, chess computers, thermostats, even a lectern.Footnote 25 But few people, including Dennett, would of course want to say that that all of these entities really do have genuine beliefs. In short, it seems like in its slogan form the intentional strategy seems to over-generate – i.e. it attributes beliefs to too many things.Footnote 26
Now, Dennett was of course aware of this issue. Below is a well-known passage in which he acknowledges and addresses this worry.
Does our definition of an intentional system exclude any objects at all? For instance, it seems the lectern in this lecture room can be construed as an intentional system, fully rational, believing that it is currently located at the center of the civilized world (as some of you may also think), and desiring above all else to remain at the center. What should such a rational agent so equipped with belief and desire do? Stay put, clearly – which is just what the lectern does. I predict the behaviour, accurately, from the intentional stance, so is it an intentional system? If it is, anything at all is.
What should disqualify the lectern? For one thing, the strategy does not recommend itself in this case, for we get no predictive power from it that we did not antecedently have. We already knew what the lectern was going to do – namely nothing – and tailored the beliefs and desires to fit in a quite unprincipled way.Footnote 27 (1981, p. 66)
As we can see, Dennett deals with the over-generation worry by essentially conceding that being interpretable or predictable from the intentional stance is not in fact sufficient for something to count as a genuine believer – i.e. being predictable or interpretable from the intentional stance is not all there is to being a true believer. Instead, we see Dennett qualifying the interpretationist proposal: the intentional strategy also needs to give us predictive power that we did not antecedently have. And it is this condition that disqualifies things like simple animals, plants, and artifacts from counting as genuine believers. As Child (1996:p. 43) puts it, “So the ascription of attitudes to thermostats, or simple creatures, is surplus to explanatory requirements in a way that their ascription to human beings is not.” Following Dennett then we should replace the earlier version of Interpretationism with Interpretationism*.
Interpretationism* A system qualifies as a genuine believer as long as (1) its behaviour is reliably interpretable (or predictable) from the intentional stance and (2) applying the intentional strategy to the system yields new predictive power that we didn’t antecedently have.
An important question then is whether collective agents like groups can satisfy Interpretationism* – i.e. whether applying the intentional stance to groups gives us new predictive power that we didn’t antecedently have. And I think this is something that summativist rejectionists may reasonably deny. Here is why.
In order to predict what some group is going to do, we might argue, we first need to make some assumptions about its members – e.g. their beliefs, their aims, their desires, etc. If we don’t do this, then it seems like we won’t be able to reliably predict what the group is going to do. It appears then that our ability to reliably predict the behaviour of some group depends in important ways on our ability to accurately predict the behaviour of at least some of its members. From here, summativist rejectionists, might draw the following conclusion: for any group, once we have applied the intentional stance to at least some of its members we don’t learn anything new if we then also apply it to the group itself. In other words, applying the intentional strategy to groups seems to yield no predictive power above and beyond that which we get from applying the intentional strategy to some of its members. And, as a result, doing so would be entirely surplus to our explanatory needs.Footnote 28
For instance, consider again Tollefsen’s two cases, Navy and Ford. It seems that once we attribute the relevant beliefs and desires (as specified in the two cases) to the high-ranking officers and the Ford executives respectively, we can plausibly explain why the navy sometimes fires at other ships and predict that Ford executives will discount its large vehicles. And, so the argument may continue, once we are in a position to reliably predict what the high-ranking navy officers and the Ford executives are going to do, we get no additional predictive power from applying the intentional strategy to the relevant groups – i.e. the Navy or the Ford Motor Company. Put somewhat more flippantly, summativist rejectionists might argue that groups are a bit like Dennett’s lectern when it comes to the intentional strategy, for treating them as intentional systems affords us no predictive power that we didn’t already have.
As we can see, summativist rejectionists have multiple options for responding to the Argument From Interpretationism. First, they might appeal to The Target Challenge to put pressure on (P2). But, even if believers could somehow respond to The Target Challenge, there would still remain the Predictive Power Challenge which, by replacing Interpretationism with Interpretationism*, puts pressure on (P1). Hence, in order to defend the Argument From Interpretationism believers will have to respond to both challenges.