March 12, 2014

Group Agency and the Extended Mind Thesis

Filed under: Metaphysics,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:18 pm

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 4.16.51 PMAccording to the extended mind thesis (EMT), one’s mind can literally be ‘extended’ to or located in objects in the external environment. There is a genuine sense in which one’s mind is ‘in’ one’s diary, for example. Another oft-cited example is the main character in the movie Momento, who must rely entirely on written notes and external cues and reminders for his sense of identity. An interesting consequence of the EMT is that one’s mind can be located in different objects and at different locations.

It seems to me that the EMT can make for a unique defense of a robust theory group agency realism (GAR). According to GAR, certain groups can qualify as intentional agents distinct from their members, complete with thoughts, beliefs, desires, etc. of their own. Some even argue that groups can be self-conscious, morally responsible, and have their own first-person perspective.

To the extent that one thinks a mind is required for having some or all of these properties, and that groups cannot have minds on account of lacking a tightly unified substratum in which to ground a mind, the EMT provides a way of seeing how that might be possible. By the EMT, we could say that the group’s mind is located in its members wherever they might be. Indeed, this may be an even more plausible example of EMT than the standard ones, for instead of locating mind in a non-mental, physical object like a diary, a group agent’s mind will be located in the minds of its members.

This seems like a really obvious connection. I’d be surprised if it hasn’t been made before.



  1. Hey Chad,

    So wild. I just can’t get with this! But you know that. :) Question though: How would the mind that emerges (?) from the individual members’ mind exhibit the “unity of consciousness”?

    One might think that conscious states are unified, and they must be unified. With Chalmers, we might say: necessarily, any set of conscious states of a subject at a time is unified. We might then worry about how a “group agent’s mind” could be unified in this way.

    We might also suppose the whole idea is incoherent. If we say that, “by the EMT, we could say that the group’s mind is located in its members wherever they might be,” then it would seem that there is a possible of the group mind having two phenomenal states simultaneously, without there being a conjoint phenomenology for both states.

    Is this a problem or have I misunderstood you, which is probable!

    Comment by Paul — March 12, 2014 @ 4:38 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul. Interesting observations.

      Re: unity of consciousness. I’m not sure how to understand unity here. But some form of unity is required for the formation and preservation of a group attitude. Any theory of group agency realism will have a story about how this works.

      A group must be structured in such a way that its current and subsequent intentional states are rationally consistent with those that make up the group attitude. List and Pettit consider different aggregate functions that can ensure rational consistency for the group attitude. Some kind structure that ensures rational consistency within the group attitude seems to be a sufficient notion of unity.

      Re: incoherence. The problem, as you put it, is that it’s impossible for there to be simultaneously two distinct phenomenal states of one mind but without there being a conjoint phenomenology for both states. I don’t know if that’s an impossibility, but not all conscious states are phenomenally conscious states. I don’t think anyone believes group agents can be phenomenally conscious. But that’s not to say group agents can’t have conscious states of other another kind. That aside, can you explain the worry a bit more? It sounds interesting in its own right.

      Comment by camcintosh — March 12, 2014 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

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