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Joint Action: Which forms of shared agency underpin our social nature? (PH359-15)

Timing & CATS

Tis module will be running in the Autumn Term of 2017-18 and is worth 15 CATS.

Module Description

Shared agency is a familiar feature of everyday life: people move tables together, walk together, play piano duets and paint houses together. Until recently philosophers of mind and action, like many cognitive and developmental psychologists, have focussed on the case of an individual acting alone and ignored the fact that people often do things together. This module introduces students to some questions about joint action that arise from recent philosophical and experimental research, including:

  • How must models of individual agency be revised or extended to accommodate shared agency?
  • What distinguishes events that involve shared agency from events that do not? Which planning mechanisms enable us to coordinate our plans and actions, and what if anything do these mechanisms tell us about the nature of shared agency?
  • Does the existence of shared agency entail that there are mental states with plural subjects, or that there are special kinds of mental state (so-called ‘we-intentions’), or special kinds of reasoning (‘team reasoning’)?
  • How, if at all, can we make sense of the idea that states like knowledge or intention can be shared by two or more subjects?
  • What kinds of commitment, if any, are required for shared agency?
  • When does shared agency first appear in human development?
  • What role might it play in facilitating development?
  • Should reflection of the motor or perceptual processes which enable us to coordinate our actions inform theories about what shared agency is?

Learning Outcomes or Aims

By the end of the module students should be...

  • able to understand and accurately characterise central questions about shared agency and the main views that philosophers have developed about its nature;
  • able to identify conflicts between these views, and to evaluate arguments for and against them;
  • somewhat familiar with, and able to use, formal tools relevant to understanding shared agency, such as team reasoning and plural predication;
  • able to understand and accurately report relevant findings from cognitive and developmental psychology; and
  • able to identify philosophical questions arising from such findings, and to relate them to longstanding issues in philosophy.

Contact Time

Lectures for 2017-18

2 hours of lectures for 9 weeks of term

  • Thursday 1pm to 3pm in S0.19

There will be no lectures in reading week (week 6)

Seminars for 2017-18

Seminars for this course start in week 2

There will be no seminars during reading week (week 6)

Please sign up for a seminar group using tabula.

Assessment Methods

This module will be assessed in the following way:

  • One 1,500-word essay (worth 15% of the module)
  • One 2,500-word essay (worth 85% of the module)

Essays should be submitted to Tabula in line with the essay deadlines schedule.

Background Reading and Textbooks

There is no textbook for this module. For a good book introducing many of the issues, see Michael Bratman, Shared Agency: A Planning Theory of Acting Together (Oxford: OUP, 2014). For an encylopedia article, Shared Agency by Abe Roth in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Useful papers include:

Bratman, M. E. (1992). Shared cooperative activity. The Philosophical Review, 101(2):327– 341.

Bratman, Michael Shared Agency: A Planning Theory of Acting Together (Oxford: OUP, 2014)

Butterfill, S. (2012). Joint action and development. Philosophical Quarterly, 62(246):23–47.

Gilbert, M. P. (1990). Walking together: A paradigmatic social phenomenon. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 15:1–14.

Knoblich, G., Butterfill, S., and Sebanz, N. (2010). Psychological research on joint action: Theory and data. In Ross, B., editor, Psychology of Learning and Motivation, volume 51. Academic Press.

Linnebo, Ø. (2005). Plural quantification. In Zalta, E. N., editor, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2005 Edition).

Pacherie, E. (2013). Intentional joint agency: shared intention lite. Synthese, forthcoming:1– 23.

Roth, A. S. (2004). Shared agency and contralateral commitments. The Philosophical Review, 113(3):359–410.

Roth, A. S. (2010). Shared agency. In Zalta, E. N., editor, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2001 Edition).

Searle, J. R. (1994). The Construction of Social Reality. The Free Press, New York.

Sebanz, N., Bekkering, H., and Knoblich, G. (2006). Joint action: Bodies and mind moving together. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10(2):70–76.

Sugden, R. (2000). Team preferences. Economics and Philosophy, 16:175–204.

Tomasello, M. and Rakoczy, H. (2003). What makes human cognition unique? from individual to shared to collective intentionality. Mind and Language, 18(2):121–147.

Vesper, C., Knoblich, G., and Sebanz, N. (2013). Our actions in my mind: Motor imagery of joint action. Neuropsychologia, forthcoming.

Course Materials

From October 2016 course materials for all modules will be available on Moodle. Simply sign in and search for the module code from your Moodle home page.