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Aggregate Subjects: Recap

Which forms of shared agency underpin our social nature?

What distinguishes joint action from parallel but merely individual action?

In the first part of this course we saw that there are reasons to reject both the Simple View and Bratman’s view (a counterexample, no less), and significant challenges to extracting an answer to these questions from Gilbert’s work.
When we look at the leading accounts, it’s not much of an exaggeration to talk about a train wreck.
Maybe we can get further by adopting a more radical approach.


aggregate subject

The more radical approach we are in the middle of exploring hinges on aggregate subjects. An aggregate subject is a subject with proper parts who are themselves subjects.
I compared aggregate subjects to an aggregate animal, the Portuguese man o' war (Physalia physalis), which is composed of polyps.
Here you can say that ‘the group [of polyps] itself’ is engaged in action which is not just a matter of the polyps all acting.
But how can such a thing exist? Humans do not mechanically attach themselves in the way that the polyps making up that jellyfish do.
So (as we saw in the last lecture) we have to ask, How are aggregate agents possible?
It was striking that many people took the view that such things just couldn’t exist; just as Searle did. One thing I aim to do in this lecture is to convince you that their existence is not quite as strange as you might think.
But first I want to remind you of a couple of themes from the last lecture.