Collective Belief and the Intentional Strategy


  • David Kocourek



What do we mean when we say that some group believes something? Do we simply mean that all the members of the group believe it, or are we acknowledging the existence of some kind of group agent? According to Margaret Gilbert, talk about group mental states refers to the specific kind of agreements she calls joint commitments — that is, to collectively believe something means to be committed with others to believe it. In my article, I will first present Gilbert’s approach in more detail but will ultimately show that this approach is problematic and will refute it. I will briefly consider the most common solution to the problems Gilbert’s account faces, which lies in replacing collective beliefs with acceptances, but I will show that this solution will not do either. The solution I will then present will be based on Daniel Dennett’s intentional strategy, which is a method of interpreting the things around us and predicting their behaviour by treating them as rational agents with relevant intentions. I will try to show that all the problematic cases of collective belief can be explained by applying the intentional strategy to the groups in question.