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Walking Together in the Tarantino Sense

The Simple View

Two or more agents perform an intentional joint action
exactly when there is an act-type, φ, such that
each agent intends that
they, these agents, φ together
and their intentions are appropriately related to their actions.

Here’s the simple view again. My aim now is to present the most convincing objection to it that I can.

Walking together in the Tarantino sense

Here is my attempt to improve on Bratman’s counterexample. Contrast friends walking together in the way friends ordinarily walk, which is a paradigm example of joint action, with two gangsters who walk together like this ...
... Gangster 1 pulls a gun on Gangster 2 and says: “let’s walk” But Gangster 2 does the same thing to Gangster 1 simultaneously.
We might call this ‘walking together in the Tarrantino sense’.
The conditions of the Simple View are met both in ordinary walking together and in walking together in the Tarantino sense. [*Discuss ‘appropriately related’]. So according to the Simple View, both are intentional joint actions.

1. I intend that we, you and I, walk together.

... by means of my forcing you at gun point.

2. You intend that we, you and I, walk together.

... by means of you forcing me at gun point.

The interdependence of the guns means that our actions can be appropriately related to our intentions.
Now I wanted to say that walking together in the Tarantino sense is not an intentional joint action unless the central event of of Reservoir Dogs is also a case of joint action. And I think it’s pretty clear that that isn’t a joint action. But I was surprised to find that at least two people responded, independently of each other, to this suggestion by saying that walking together in the Tarantino sense really is a joint action.
My opponent reasoned that each is acting intentionally, and that coercion is no bar to shared agency.

the threat of collapse: trading intuitions

Just here we come to a tricky issue. There is a danger that we will just end up trying to say something systematic about one or another set of intuitions, where nothing deep underpins these intuitions.
I think this is a real threat; you’ll see that most philosophers are not careful about their starting point in theorising about shared agency. They merely give examples or a couple of contrast cases and off they go. Adopting this undisciplined approach risks achieving nothing more than organising one’s own intuitions. (It’s fine to organise intuitions on weekends and evenings, but it shouldn’t be your day job.)
That’s why I want to go slowly here --- maybe this is very frustrating and you want to get into the really exciting, weird and crazy stuff about plural subjects, shared emotions or aggregate animals. But before we can do this seriously we need some sort of foundation that will ensure we aren’t merely organising intuitions.

another contrast case: blocking the aisle

Imagine two sisters who, getting off an aeroplane, tacitly agree to exact revenge on the unruly mob of drunken hens behind them by standing so as to block the aisle together. This is a joint action. Meanwhile on another flight, two strangers happen to be so configured that they are collectively blocking the aisle. The first passenger correctly anticipates that the other passenger, who is a complete stranger, will not be moving from her current position for some time. This creates an opportunity for the first passenger: she intends that they, she and the stranger, block the aisle. And, as it happens, the second passenger’s thoughts mirror the first’s.

1. The sisters perform a joint action; the strangers’ actions are parallel but merely individual.

2. In both cases, the conditions of the Simple View are met.

The feature under consideration as distinctive of joint action is present: each passenger is acting on her intention that they, the two passengers, block the aisle.


3. The Simple View does not correctly answer the question, What distinguishes genuine joint actions from parallel but merely individual actions?

Explain the case to your partner. Is it a genuine counterexample to the Simple View?

Is it a genuine counterexample?

Recall our earlier contrast cases ...


What distinguishes genuine joint actions from parallel but merely individual actions?

The Simple View

I’ve been arguing that the Simple View is either outright wrong or else radically incomplete as an account of shared agency.
Apparently, it is possible for two or more agents to each intend that they do one thing together and to act on these intentions without them thereby exercising shared agency a strong-ish sense.
So the Simple View fails to provide a satisfying answer to the question, What distinguishes genuine joint actions from parallel but merely individual actions?
Let me pause to say why this matters and how it fits into the big picture ...
Philosophers have offered a tremendous variety of incompatible, wildly complicated and conceptually innovative theories about shared agency. The Simple View is an obstacle to discussing these theories. If the Simple View is correct, none of the complexity philosophers have offered is needed.
The first problem I encounter in thinking about shared agency is that philosophers seem to take for granted without argument that the Simple View can be excluded. In fact it is surprisingly difficult to show that the Simple View is wrong. The usual argument against it is that it is circular, but we saw that this argument depends on the mistaken assumption that all cases of acting together involve joint action.
A better objection to the Simple View involves counterexamples. But we saw that the standard counterexample, Bratman’s mafia cases, does not work. However refining that counterexample does appear to present a problem for the Simple View.
Note that I don’t claim that the objection to the Simple View is decisive; in fact one of my aims in these lectures is to show that it is possible to save the Simple View. Nevertheless I do think that the objections to it are serious enough that we must now explore what proper philosophers have to say about shared agency.
That’s why your first seminar task is to read and write about Searle’s early article. This along with some less-readable but perhaps deeper efforts by Raimo Tuomela are often regarded as having initiated contemporary discussions of joint action.