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Self-representing Aggregate Subjects


aggregate subject

How can such a thing exist? Humans do not mechanically attach themselves in the way that the polyps making up that jellyfish do.
So how are aggregate agents possible?

Dennett: Intentional Stance

Are you familiar with Dennett’s intentional stance and Dennett's ingeneous twist?

‘What it is to be a true believer is to be … a system whose behavior is reliably and voluminously predictable via the intentional strategy.’

\citep[p.\ 15]{Dennett:1987sf}

Dennett 1987, p. 15

If we accept this, then it is easy to see how there could be aggregate subjects. There are aggegrate subjects just in virtue of the fact that people sometimes behave in a way that they form a system whose behaviour is reliably and voluminously predictable via the intentional strategy.
But I think this is unsatisfying for two kinds of reason. One is very general: the twist in the intentional stance is almost certainly wrong, as I think even Dennett now acknowledges.
The other is that this approach neglects the subject’s own perspective. Doesn’t it matter whether, from the perspective of the subjects themselves, there is an aggregate agent? (This is just a hunch, not an argument.)

Cordula’s Imperative

Cordula’s Imperative: Theorise about shared agency from the point of view of the subject.
Humans from around two years of age or earlier can readily attribute states to an imaginary agent, identify how it needs to act given those states and perform actions on its behalf. Note that in acting on behalf of imaginary agents they may be furthering their own real-world objectives (as in `Teddy wants to go to the park.').
Joint action sometimes involves imaginary agents as well---not teddies, of course, but imaginary composite agents.
Lucina and Charlie each want to complete a multi-step task. Lucina imagines that she and Charlie are an aggregate subject, Lucina-and-Charlie, and attributes to this imaginary agent the intention of completing the task. Charlie does the same, ascribing the same intention to the imaginary agent.
Do such imaginary activities presuppose shared intentions? Certainly we require something to make it the case that it is not merely an accident that Charlie imagines the same agent and attributes the same intention as Lucina. %\footnote{The case described here is not one of joint acton \emph{with} an imaginary agent. The actual agents, Lucina and Charlie, are real. But what makes their action interestingly joint is the fact that they each construe themselves as acting on behalf of an imaginary composite agent, Lucina-and-Charlie.}
This is a joint action in that Lucina and Charlie work together to achieve an outcome which occurs as a common effect of their actions.
Incidentally, this case indicates that some of the functions assigned to shared intention can be also fulfilled by imaginings. Charlie and Lucina construe their actions as if they were the actions of a single agent, and it is this imaginary exercise which makes them responsive to each others' actions and causes them to coordinate their activities by executing complementary parts of what must be done on behalf of the imaginary agent.
What does this get us? An imaginary aggregate subject. But is there more?

self-representing agents

More than an imaginary aggregate subject?

‘The intentional or conversational stance not only enables us to identify and understand patterns that would escape [...] an individualistic stance [...]

In the case of self-representing agents, it is also responsible for generating the very patterns that appear in the interaction between them. [...]

the perspective is of the greatest importance in understanding agency’

Helm’s position appears similar: ‘a basic account of what must be the case if there are to be plural agents: there must be a projectible pattern of rationality in the group’s responses constitutive of an evaluative perspective held jointly by members of the group, such that each of us can be held rationally accountable for his or her responses in light of that joint evaluative perspective’ \citep[p.~38]{helm_plural_2008}
Also: ‘he is a member of a plural agent whose evaluative perspective he both shares and helps constitute; that is, we each must care about us as a plural agent.’ \citep[p.~40]{helm_plural_2008}

Pettit (2014, p. 1658)

imaginary -> reflectively constituted

aggregate subject


aggregate subject

The question was, how could there be any such thing as aggregate subjects given that humans don’t mechanically attach themselves to each other in the way that polyps do.
Following Pettit and List, I suggested that one answer to this involves self-reflection playing a role in constituting the aggregate subject.