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Joint practical knowledge project

Joint practical knowledge: shared agency and knowledge of other minds is a new project, co-directed by Johannes Roessler (Warwick) and Glenda Satne (Alberto Hurtado University, Santiago de Chile) and funded by a British Academy International Mobility grant. The project aims to investigate the possibility of plural practical knowledge and its bearing on philosophical issues concerning knowledge of other minds.

The first workshop will be held at Warwick on the 11th/12th of July 2016.
Speakers will include Kimberley Brownlee, Steve Butterfill, Lucy Campbell, Naomi Eilan, Anil Gomes, John Michael, Glenda Satne, Hans Bernard Schmid.

The workshop is open to all, but places will be limited: if you’d like to attend please contact J dot Roessler at warwick dot ac dot uk

The second workshop will take place in December 2016 in Santiago de Chile.

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Joint practical knowledge: shared agency and knowledge of other minds

A number of philosophers and psychologists have recently argued that understanding the nature and development of human knowledge of other minds requires understanding the relationship between such knowledge and characteristic human forms of interaction and shared agency (see recent work by Reddy, Avramides, Gallagher, Butterfill, among others). The project aims to explore a specific way to develop this approach, by articulating and probing a thesis we call the Joint practical knowledge thesis. A familiar claim in the philosophy of action, going back to seminal writings by Anscombe and Hampshire, is that one typically knows what one is intentionally doing without evidence or observation. The joint practical knowledge thesis says that the participants in shared intentional activities typically have non-evidential, non-observational
knowledge of what they are doing under first-person plural descriptions. The project will also explore the potential of this thesis for understanding and advancing current debates about self- and other-knowledge in philosophy and developmental psychology.

Suppose you observe a number of people queuing and then join the queue. Putting together your observational knowledge ‘they are queuing’ and your first-person knowledge ‘I am queuing’, you might reflect ‘we are queuing’. Compare and contrast this case: you are playing cards with others, and, asked what you are doing, you reply ‘we are playing desconfio’. This latter judgement does not seem to be based on your prior, independent knowledge that they, and that you, are playing desconfio. Intuitively, such a dual basis could not deliver the kind of knowledge you seem to have — namely, knowledge that you and they are playing desconfio together. In the light of this and related observations, a tempting hypothesis is the following: your knowledge in the second (but not in the first) case is an example of ‘practical knowledge’, in the sense that (a) it is not based on evidence or observation, (b) assertions expressing it are simultaneously expressions of intentions, and (c) its possession is intelligible in the light of the practical reasoning informing the corresponding intention. We call this the Joint practical knowledge thesis (JPK).

Versions of JPK have figured in some recent work (notably in an important article by Ben Laurence and in unpublished work by Glenda Satne). What is needed to take this work further, we believe, is a sustained and concerted effort to (i) articulate and assess the case that can be made for the thesis, and (ii) determine
how the thesis, if defensible, would affect our understanding of the nature, and development, of self-knowledge and knowledge of other minds. Progress here depends on pursuit of three interconnected sets of research questions.

First, there are questions regarding the very idea of plural intentions and the kind of reasons, and reasoning, that would inform them. A basic issue here is how to characterize the ‘jointness’ of joint action: in particular, whether one should do so by appeal to interrelations between the participants’ (independently intelligible)
first-person singular practical reasoning (see e.g. Bratman) or whether doing so requires invoking practical reasoning that not only issues in, but is itself a case of joint intentional activity (see e.g. Laurence). A potentially illuminating, and we believe under-utilized, way to approach these matters is by pursuing analogies with debates about the ‘jointness’ of joint attention (see e.g. recent work by Campbell, Peacocke and Eilan).

Second, what role, if any, should first-person plural knowledge play in accounting for joint intentional actions, and how is such knowledge to be explained? Does Anscombe’s case for crediting intentional agents with non-observational knowledge of their actions have equal force in the case of first-person plural knowledge of intentional actions? What is the relation between such knowledge and the participants’ knowledge of what they, individually, are intentionally doing?

Third, what would be the significance, epistemological and developmental, of first-person plural practical knowledge? Would such knowledge provide access to others’ intentions as well as their actions? Would recognition of such knowledge pose a serious challenge to the traditional assumption that knowledge of other minds is based on evidence or observation? What would be its implications for the question of how to understand the possibility of applying psychological terms univocally to oneself and others?

Photo by Maria Allemand

We gratefully acknolwedge financial support for the first workshop from the Mind Assocation.