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.
collective intentionality joint commitment membership Margaret Gilbert Robert Brandom