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Self-representing Aggregate Subjects Presuppose Joint Action

The basic idea is this. Some aggregate subjects exists in virtue of several individuals (self-)representing themselves as that aggregate subject.

self-representation and aggregate agents

Some aggregate subjects exists in virtue of several individuals(self-)representing themselves as that aggregate subject.

No claim that this is the only way an aggregate subject could exist. (Team reasoning may be an alternative, as may certain forms of parallel planning.)


-- intellectualist

(depends on members thinking of themselves as members of a group)

-- long-term

Seems to depend on long-term collaboration, or at least the potential for it
‘A corporate attitude (of a collective) is an attitude held by the collective as an intentional agent. To say that a collective holds a corporate belief or desire in some proposition p is to say that the collective is an agent in its own right, which holds that belief or desire. Thus not all collectives are capable of holding corporate attitudes; only those that qualify as group agents are. For example, the United States Supreme Court and other collegial courts arguably fall into this category, as do commercial corporations, NGOs, and other purposive organizations such as cohesive political parties, universities, and especially states. In consequence, they are capable of holding corporate attitudes. By contrast, a random collection of individuals, such as the people who happen to be on Times Square at a particular time, does not. Such a collection cannot hold corporate attitudes.’ \citep[p.~1615]{list:2014_three}

-- depends on shared intention

What kind of attitudes must individuals have towards a group agent in order to bring it into being? Typically they need a shared intention (which they may have prior to constituting a group agent) to form a group.
‘we shall abstract from some differences between these approaches and adopt the following stipulative approach, broadly inspired by Bratman (1999). We say that a collection of individuals ‘jointly intend’ to promote a particular goal if four conditions are met: Shared goal. They each intend that they, the members of a more or less salient collection, together promote the given goal. Individual contribution. They each intend to do their allotted part in a more or less salient plan for achieving that goal. Interdependence. They each form these intentions at least partly because of believing that the others form such intentions too. Common awareness. This is all a matter of common awareness, with each believing that the first three conditions are met, each believing that others believe this, and so on.’ \citep[p.~33]{list_pettit:2011}

-- inferrential integration

The aggregate agent is something with a life of its own, which you may influence but certainly do not control. So *if* we said (and I don’t think Pettit does) that having a shared intention is a matter of the aggregate agent having an intention, we would fails the to meet the requirements on inferential and normative integration of shared intentions with intentions.
This is not to say there aren’t such things as aggregate agents that result from shared intentions or other attitudes towards the aggregate agent. My point is just that these can hardly be foundational.
Note especially that this is no objection to List & Pettit given their aims; just qualifications on what we can achieve by borrowing their ideas.
‘Since a joint action can be an isolated act performed jointly by several individuals, it does not necessarily bring into existence a fully fledged group agent in our sense ... In particular, the performance of a single joint action is too thin ... to warrant the ascription of a unified agential status ... For example, in the case of fully fledged agents ... we can meaningfully hypothesize about how they would behave under a broad range of variations in their desires or beliefs, whereas there is a severe limit on how far we can do this with a casual collection that performs a joint action. Moreover, any collection of people, and not just a group with an enduring identity over time, may perform a joint action, for instance when the people in question carry a piano downstairs together or spontaneously join to help a stranger in need. Thus mere collections may be capable of joint agency, whereas only groups are capable of group agency in the stronger sense we have in mind. However, joint actions, and the joint [shared] intentions underlying them, may play a role in the formation of group agents’ \citep[n.~18, pp.~215-6]{list_pettit:2011}


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.
This idea clearly works if you agree with Dennett on the intentional stance. It may not work if you don’t accept his view. This leaves us with a question ...

Dennett: Intentional Stance

‘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 not, can there be aggregate agents?

Although this is an interesting question, I will not pursue it here. For suppose that the answer is yes (or that the Intentional Stance claim is true.) Even in that case, aggregate agents do not straightforwardly help us to solve the basic problem we face in trying to give a theory of the forms of shared agency which characterise our social nature ...


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

my provisional conclusion

Forming aggregate agents requires joint action.

Because forming aggregate agents requires joint action, we cannot appeal to aggregate agents in attempting to answer the question, What distinguishes ...