On Help and Interpersonal Control

  • Emanuele Bottazzi
  • Nicolas TroquardEmail author
Part of the Studies in the Philosophy of Sociality book series (SIPS, volume 5)


Help is not much considered in the literature of analytic social philosophy. According to Tuomela (Cooperation – a philosophical study, Springer, 2000), when a helps an agent b (1) a contributes to the achievement of b’s goal, and (2) b accepts a’s contribution to the goal. We take a rather different tack. Our notion of help is unilateral and triggered by an attempt. It is unilateral because we can provide our help to someone without her accepting it. She could be unaware of our actions, or she could be unwilling to receive it. Helping is based on trying because it is agent b (supposedly) trying to do something that triggers a’s action of help. This is something supported for instance by Warneken and Tomasello’s experiments with toddlers (Warneken and Tomasello, Science 311(5765):1301–1303, 2006; Br J Psychol 100:445–471, 2009).

Help is interesting in its own right, but also because it allows us to reconsider the philosophical underpinnings of the essential notion of control in social philosophy. Help is seen here as a kind of weak interpersonal control, where an agent a’s agency guides an agent b’s agency.

When possible, we evaluate our framework on chosen scenarios taken from the literature in philosophy and psychology. The analysis is driven by a formal, logical approach. In particular, we make use of the modal logics of agency. This assists us in taking sensible philosophical choices, avoiding blatant inconsistencies. Moreover, the resulting formalism has the potential to serve as a computational engine for implementing concrete societies of cooperating autonomous agents.


Social ontology Help Control Agency Logic 



Emanuele Bottazzi was supported by the “Postdoc 2011” funding programme of the Autonomous Province of Trento, Italy (project “STACCO”). Nicolas Troquard was supported by a Marie Curie fellowship under grant PCOFUND-GA-2008-226070 (project “LASTS”).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LOA-ISTC-CNRTrentoItaly
  2. 2.LACLUniversity of Paris-Est CréteilCréteilFrance

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