We regularly conjoin plural subjects with action verbs.
We have a desire to analyze the collective action purely into terms of the
individual actions. This is a mistake - removes what is interesting about
Example: five people building a wall
Someone could say there is no more to this action than just the individuals
laying bricks / cement.
This account gives no relations between the people doing the various
Example: swedish diplomat
Case 1: collective action
Want to talk to the diplomat, who is talking to someone else. Your
teammate engages the other person, opening up the diplomat for you to
Together you pull off the plan together
Case 2: no collective action
Same as above, except no coordination was planned with the teammate
It just happens that this other person started talking to the person
talking to the diplomat, and you seize the opportunity.
It’s just one agent exploiting the actions of another agent.
The reduction of group actions to individual actions cannot distinguish the
One source of pressure that makes people (illegitimately) doubt the reality of
Cause by an intuitive (but bad) picture of how solitary action happens
A process that is caused by a psychological state
When we generalize this to groups, it requires us to postulate a group mind.
Laurence: this picture is bad because it presupposes the causality between
action and mental states is like the causality between rocks bumping each
Different kinds of explanation ought be appropriate for talking about
It lacks any reference to people’s purposes for acting.
Slogan: acting together is acting with a common purpose.
E.g. bank robber is listening to a stethescope
We can ask why and get the answer “to crack the safe”
We can ask why is he cracking the safe and get the answer “because the
robbers are robbing the bank”
Isn’t this circular?
All that was presupposed was that an intentional action with a
plural subject is intelligible.
Proof: Laurence can articulate the difference between actions
with plural subjects and plural agents
Why is the gunman holding the gun on the security guard? To immobilize
him? Why? Because the robbers are robbing the bank.
What it means for the two actors to be acting together is that the
“purposive explanations” of their actions unify at some point.
Individualistic picture of acting together can cause problems
E.g. understanding democratic reasoning in terms of a lone agent tries to
satisfy his preferences will cause distortions
What goes missing is the notion of a shared purpose/mission
Will be difficult to reconstruct the group from the individual citizen’s
Situations where impermissible coercion is involved
“Jump through this hoop or else I’ll set your pants on fire”
Force used against free riders (e.g. taxation)
Without collective reasons, we end up with strong libertarian arguments
that taxation is theft.
Why is the reduction to individuals ‘a mistake’? Agree that it’s not the
only way to make sense of a collective action, e.g. I can think of a person
as a person or as a collection of atoms. The existence of one (even one that
is strictly ‘more fundamental’) doesn’t render other interpretations