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Two (Failed?) Objections to Bratman

Searle (1990, pp. 92–3) and Velleman (1997, p. 32) have attempted to provide objections to Bratman’s theory of shared intentional agency. Neither objection works (at least not as it stands), but both illuminate feature’s of Bratman’s view.

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Notes

The two objections do not depend on any details of Bratman’s theory of shared intentional agency other than his claim that:

‘Our shared intention to paint together involves your intention that we paint and my intention that we paint.’ (Bratman, 2014, p. 12)

Both objections aim to show that this claim is either false, or at least cannot be used to characterise shared intention without unilluminating circularity.

Searle’s Objection

According to Searle,

‘the team intention … is in part expressed by “We are executing a pass play.” But … no individual member of the team has this as the entire content of his intention, for no one can execute a pass play by himself.’ (Searle, 1990, pp. 92–3)

From this Bratman reconstructs an objection:

  1. ‘it is always true that the subject of an intention is the intended agent of the intended activity’ (Bratman, 2014, p. 13; this is the Own Action Condition)

  2. Therefore, neither I nor you individually can rationally intend that we paint.

Reply to Searle

Bratman (1997)’s response is to offer counterexamples to the Own Action Condition which involve only ordinary, individual action. (I present such a counterexample in the recording.)

Bratman (2014, p. Chapter 3, §1) also considers, and rejects, two arguments for the Own Action Condition.

Velleman’s Objection

  1. ‘intentions . . . are the attitudes that resolve deliberative questions, thereby settling issues.’ (Velleman, 1997, p. 32; this is the Settle Condition)

  2. If I intend that we paint together, then my intention settles the issue of whether we will paint together.

  3. If the issue is settled, your intention that we paint together cannot settle it.

  4. It follows that if I intend that we paint together, you cannot rationally intend the same.

  5. Therefore, we cannot rationally each intend that we, you and I, paint together.

Reply to Velleman

The persistence of my intention that we paint may depend on the persistence of your intention that we paint; and conversely. That is, our intentions are persistence interdependent.

Where our intentions are persistence interdependent, they collectively settle the issue of whether we will paint (Bratman, 2014, p. 64ff).

Therefore, premises (2) and (3) in Velleman’s Objection are not both true.

Conclusion

Neither objection shows that Bratman’s theory is wrong.

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Glossary

Own Action Condition : ‘it is always true that the subject of an intention is the intended agent of the intended activity’ (Bratman, 2014, p. 13).
Settle Condition : ‘intentions . . . are the attitudes that resolve deliberative questions, thereby settling issues’ (Velleman, 1997, p. 32).

References

Bratman, M. E. (1997). I intend that we J. In R. Tuomela & G. Holmstrom-Hintikka (Eds.), Contemporary action theory, volume 2: Social action. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Bratman, M. E. (2014). Shared agency: A planning theory of acting together. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://0-dx.doi.org.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199897933.001.0001
Searle, J. R. (1990). Collective intentions and actions. In P. Cohen, J. Morgan, & M. E. Pollack (Eds.), Intentions in communication (pp. 90–105). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Velleman, D. (1997). How to share an intention. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 57(1), 29–50.