In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Collective Intentionality

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Group Agents and Institutional Agency
  • Collective Belief and Acceptance
  • Collective Epistemology
  • Group Minds
  • Collective Responsibility
  • Semantics of Collectivity
  • Evolution and Ontogenesis of Collective Intentionality

Philosophy Collective Intentionality
Marija Jankovic, Kirk Ludwig
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0411


Collective intentionality concerns the intentionality of groups or collectives. Intentionality is the property of being about, directed at, oriented toward, or representing objects, events, properties, and states of affairs. Examples of intentional states (states with intentionality, not just intentions) are belief, desire, hope, intention, admiration, perception, guilt, love, grief, fear, and so on. Collective intentionality involves joint, shared, or group intentionality and the intentionality of members (qua members) of groups that have joint or shared attitudes. More broadly, the study of collective intentionality concerns forms of intentionality that underpin social reality. What is distinctive about the study of collective intentionality within the broader study of social interactions and structures is its focus on the conceptual, ontological, and psychological features of joint or shared actions and attitudes, that is, actions and attitudes of (or apparent attributions of such to) groups or collectives, their relations to individual actions and attitudes, and their implications for the nature of social groups and their functioning. It subsumes collective action, intention, thought, reasoning, emotion, phenomenology, decision-making, responsibility, knowledge, trust, rationality, cooperation, competition, and related issues, and how these underpin social practices, conventions, institutions, and social ontology. The two main theoretical questions in the study of collective intentionality concern the ontology and psychology of collective agency and collective attitudes. The main ontological question is whether we should admit into our ontology group subjects of intentional states or attribute intentionality only to their members. The main psychological questions are, if we admit group subjects of intentional states, first, how to understand what they come to, whether they are the same or different than the intentional states we attribute to individuals and if different exactly how, and, second, what is special about the attitudes of individuals who participate in group action or whose attitudes underpin attributions of intentionality to groups? More specifically, can we understand what is special about the attitudes of individuals who participate in group agency or sustain the potential for group agency in terms of concepts already available in our understanding of individual agency, or must we introduce new concepts either of the modes of intending, believing, etc., or in the contents of such attitudes? Both questions concern the debate between methodological individualists and holists about the social, the first with respect to its ontology, the second with respect to its ideology.

General Overviews

Jankovic and Ludwig 2016 provides a quick overview of the field and the major questions. Jankovic and Ludwig 2018 serves as the most in-depth introduction to the field through chapters on nearly all its major topics. Roth 2017 provides an excellent overview specifically of shared agency. Schweikard and Schmid 2013 provides a broader overview as well as historical background. Tollefsen 2019 is a good introduction to the summative/non-summative debate in collective intentionality.

  • Jankovic, Marija, and Kirk Ludwig, eds. The Handbook of Collective Intentionality. New York: Routledge, 2018.

    A comprehensive handbook on collective intentionality, with thirty-three chapters divided into eight parts, on collective action and intention, other shared and joint attitudes, epistemology and rationality, social ontology, collectives and responsibility, social institutions, the origins and development of collective intentionality, and the semantics of collectivity.

  • Jankovic, Marija, and Kirk Ludwig. “Collective Intentionality.” In The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Social Science. Edited by McIntyre Lee and Alex Rosenberg, 214–227. New York: Routledge, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315410098.ch19

    A short general survey of the field of collective intentionality that covers collective action and intention, the role of collective intentionality in our understanding of the social, including institutional groups, conventions, status functions and roles, proxy agency and social norms, and collective attitudes other than intention.

  • Roth, Abraham Sesshu. “Shared Agency.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2017.

    An excellent introduction to the topic of shared agency, with a focus on theories of participatory intentions, that is, the intentions that individuals have when participating in a group of agents doing something together intentionally. Discusses theories of the interrelatedness of participatory intentions as well as whether they give rise to mutual obligations and group minds.

  • Schweikard, David P., and Hans Bernhard Schmid. “Collective Intentionality.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2013.

    Focuses on shared attitudes, especially intention and belief, and is organized around the tension between the irreducibility thesis that collective attitudes are not reducible to individual attitudes and the individual ownership thesis that intentional states are states of individuals. Contains a helpful review of the history of discussion of collective attitudes, and reviews content, mode, and subject accounts of what is collective in collective attitudes. Includes a brief review of social and institutional facts, collective responsibility, and team reasoning.

  • Tollefsen, Deborah. “Collective Intentionality.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2019.

    Short overview of collective intentionality, focusing on the contrast between summative and non-summative accounts of attitude attributions to groups, where summative accounts explain attributions to groups in terms of the individuals in the groups having the attitudes, whereas non-summative accounts deny this. Discusses Searle, Bratman, Gilbert, and Tuomela.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.