Project Description: Synopsis


Whereas 'classical' analytical action theory and philosophy of mind focused exclusively on the analysis of individual intentionality, it has become increasingly clear over the last two decades that in order to account for the social dimension of human action and cognition the analysis has to be extended to shared intentional states. Based on seminal contributions dating from the eighties, the analysis of collective intentionality has gradually evolved into a distinct field of research in Europe and America.


The insights and conceptual tools which collective intentionality analysis generates are relevant not only within philosophy, but have also proven useful to neighboring disciplines. These include, among others, the social, political, and cognitive sciences, where collective intentionality analysis receives increasing attention. In philosophy as well as in these neighboring disciplines, collective intentionality analysis is by now widely recognized and established as a novel approach to the understanding of the social world.

Key Issues

This success notwithstanding, no consensus as to the nature and structure of collective intentionality has emerged as yet. The current debate is marked by persistent controversies among the most important contributors to the debate. These controversies revolve largely around the following three key issues:

  • The Intentionality Issue: What is the structure of the intentionality involved in collective intentional states? Is the difference between collective intentionality and individual intentionality primarily a matter of the content, of the intentional mode or of the subject of the mental states in question?
  • The Coordination and Commitment Issue: What is the "binding force" of collective intentional states? How, if at all, do commitments and obligations come into play? Does collective intentionality analysis require us to depart from the existing approaches to human behavior?
  • The Collectivity Issue: In what sense is collectivity involved in collective intentionality? Does collective intentionality involve supra-individual agents or collective subjects?

Roughly stated, these controversies correspond to the three main philosophical subdisciplines involved in current collective intentionality analysis, i.e. action theory, social theory, and social ontology, respectively.


The Research lacunae in current collective intentionality analysis to be addressed in this project are the following:

  • It is widely ignored in the current debate that collective intentionality has been in the focus of earlier philosophical analysis, particularly in social phenomenology and existential philosophy.
  • The scope of shared intentional states taken into account in current collective intentionality analysis is usually limited to shared intentions and shared beliefs (i.e. practical and cognitive intentionality), leaving the (presumably very important) role of shared emotional or affective states largely out of the picture.
  • While it seems obvious that the key issues and foci of controversy in the current debate are not to be treated independently of each other, the inter(sub)disciplinary aspects of collective intentionality analysis have not received sufficient attention.

Aim of this Project

This project aims at filling in these lacunae by introducing a new perspective, focus, and approach into current collective intentionality analysis.

  • Historical Perspective: As the first of its kind, this project systematically searches and evaluates earlier contributions to collective intentionality analysis to be found in early phenomenology and existential philosophy.
  • Focus on Shared Emotions: Based on contributions to the topic to be found in early phenomenology and existential philosophy, this project focuses on the analysis of shared emotions.
  • Inter(sub)disciplinary Approach: This project pays special attention to the inter(sub)disciplinary nature of collective intentionality. The parts of this project are situated at the intersections between the philosophical (sub)disciplines which are most relevant to collective intentionality analysis.

Structure of the Project

The research project is in three parts, the titles and research questions of which are the following:

Part A: What is "Shared" in Sympathy? Collective Intentionality Analysis and the Emotions

  • In what sense can emotions be shared? What are the different types and degrees of "sharedness"? In what sense is emotional "sharedness" involved in sympathy?
  • What is the philosophical significance of shared emotions (esp. for social philosophy)?
  • How do shared feelings fit into our commonsensical view of feelings as individual mental states?

Part B: Beyond Egoism and Altruism? Sympathy, Commitment, and Social Identity

  • What is the conceptual role of sympathy in human cooperation?
  • Can an adequate account of sympathy shed light on what makes people think and act as members of a team?
  • Does an adequate account of the role of social identities in human cooperation require us to go beyond the conceptual dualism of egoism and altruism?

Part C: Return of the Group Mind? Social Identity and Collective Intentionality

  • What is the role of group mind concepts (and related ideas) in the current debate on collective intentionality and in early phenomenology and existential philosophy?
  • Does the thesis that groups can "have" emotions involve a group mind?
  • Are there arguments for the assumption of a group mind, or related concepts, particularly in social identity theory?

Methods: This project uses the tools of analytic philosophy. In addition to this, phenomenological and hermeneutical methods play an important role.


Collaborations: This project is being carried out in close collaboration with internationally leading experts in the field as well as with existing local and national networks and research contacts.

Output: As part of the project, two workshops and a large international conference on collective intentionality are planned. The results of the project will be published as monographs, collections of essays, and as papers in refereed journals. [more]