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31 maggio - 1 giugno 2017: Workshop: Cognition in Groups

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Centre for the Study of Social Action (CSSA)


Workshop: "Cognition in Groups"

May 31 – June 1, 2017

Sala Enzo Paci


Dipartimento di Filosofia, Università degli Studi di Milano, Via Festa del Perdono, 7 - Milano



The scientific debate of individual cognition and its relation to (mental) action and society has a long tradition. More recently, philosophers and cognitive scientists have approached the peculiarities of cognition in groups, addressing questions like: What is ‘cognition in groups’? Is there something like a ‘group mind’ or ‘socially extended mind’? What is special about being engaged in mental actions in a group together with other agents opposed to being engaged in the same kinds of action individually? What does mental action and mental agency come to in groups? What is the interrelation between group cognition and social ontology? To which extent does the existence of institutions and social facts depend on cognition in groups? This workshop aims at continuing the debate by addressing questions like these and shedding new light on ‘cognition in groups’ from various angels.



May 31, 2017

9.30-9.40                    Anika Fiebich (University of Milan): Cognition in Groups (Introduction)

Groups Agents and Collective Actions

9.40-10.30                  Alejandro Rosas (National University of Columbia): Cognition in groups and the equality attitude

10.30-11.20                David Strohmaier (University of Sheffield): Group Agents and Homuncularism

11.20-11.50                Break

Socially Extended Minds

11.50-12.40                Giulia Piredda (IUSS Center for Neurocognition, Epistemology and Theoretical Syntax in Pavia): Socially extended mind and personal identity

12.40-13.30                Laura Candiotto (University of Edinburgh): Why do social interactions maximise cognition?

13.30-15.00                Lunch Break

Group Cognition and Mental Phenomena

15.00-15.50                Kourken Michaelian (University of Dunedin): Collective memory: Metaphor or reality?

15.50-16.20                Break

16.20-17.10                Tillmann Vierkant (University of Edinburgh): Willpower and Social Tying to the Mast

17.10-18.00                Christoph Michel (University of Regensburg): Cooperative epistemic irrationality

20.00                           Dinner

June 1, 2017

Group Cognition, Societies and Social Ontology

10.00-10.50                Natalia Danilkina (University of Groningen): Talking on the European specters: a critique of the common knowledge

10.50-11.40                Giuliano Torrengo (University of Milan): Institutions and distributed cognition

11.40-12.10                Break

12.10-13.00                Angelica Kaufmann (University of Göttingen): How evolutionary primitive are social entities?


Le relazioni saranno tenute in inglese.

La partecipazione all’incontro è fortemente consigliata consigliata agli allievi della Scuola di Dottorato in Filosofia e Scienze dell’Uomo.

Tutti gli interessati sono invitati a partecipare.



Section: Group Agents and Collective Actions

Alejandro Rosas (National University of Colombia): Cognition in groups and the equality attitude

Many instances of group cognition require a capacity for recursive intentionality, i.e., for understanding higher-order intentional states. Enactivists claim that not all cases of group cognition require recursive intentionality. But my claim here is a different one: that whenever recursive intentionality is necessary, it is never sufficient. Group cognition has at least one further non-cognitive requirement, namely an equality attitude, meaning the capacity for truthful communication of thoughts, beliefs and intentions. I defend this claim by examining plans for collective action.  Plans for collective action and socially normed interactions rest on the ability for recursive intentionality and common knowledge. But, to be able to follow plans and/or norms for action, individuals need to be able to adopt and comply with public commitments regarding future actions. Truthful public commitments, in turn, are reliably supported only by the disposition to comply with the expectations generated in others by making those public commitments. This disposition is the core of the equality attitude: viewing others as equally entitled to the same expectations on truthfulness and compliance that we have on them. Hence, group cognition in collective action planning needs support from an equality attitude.

David Strohmaier (University of Sheffield): Group Agents and Homuncularism

Theories of group agency are open to the accusation of homuncularism, since groups with minds have members with minds of their own. Generally multiplying levels of mentality, that is postulating mental agents at multiple nested levels of our ontology, is seen as a problematic move that needs a good defence. In my paper, I evaluate the homuncularism accusation (e.g. Rupert 2004). I show that theories of group agency either lack an adequate response (e.g. List and Pettit 2011, Tollefsen 2015) or that their response limits too much the attribution of cognition to groups (e.g. Huebner 2014). I then argue that, at its core, the accusation of homuncularism concerns the explanatory force of attributing cognition to groups. Explaining mentality in terms of mental entities smacks of redundancy. Only if there is no redundancy and no better explanation at hand should a homuncular model be accepted. As a result homuncularism for group agents is acceptable iff there is a principle of attributing cognition to groups, which delivers an explanatory benefit exceeding the cost of multiplying the layers of mentality. I end by noting a few potential explanatory benefits that defenders of group agency can point to.

Section: Socially Extended Minds

Giulia Piredda (IUSS Center for Neurocognition, Epistemology and Theoretical Syntax in Pavia): Socially extended mind and personal identity

Gallagher (2013) has proposed the idea that we have socially extended minds. These are minds not only “constituted in social interactions with others, but also in ways that involve institutional structures, norms and practices”. However, in what can be considered the “extended mind manifesto”, the concept of a socially extended mind, as well as that of extended self, had already been introduced, in different terms, by Clark and Chalmers (1998). So, there are at least two ways of interpreting the notion of socially extended mind, in line with the two strands of the extended mind debate (Menary 2010): the functionalist and the enactivist one. Given the presence of these different versions, the first part of the talk will be devoted to a theoretical clarification of these ways – and their consequences – of intending the meaning of a socially extended mind. The second part of the talk will focus on the intersections between the socially extended mind and some issues of the personal identity debate that concerns the way in which the social environment enters the construction of our selves (e.g. autobiographical memory, technologies of the self: cfr. Heersmink 2016, Wilson & Lenart 2015).

Laura Candiotti (University of Edinburgh): Why do social interactions maximise cognition?

The so called «third wave» of the extended mind hypothesis aims to enlighten the cognitive extension within the social realm of the interactions among subjects, groups and institutions. For Gallagher (2010), social interactions maximise cognition. This means that the intersubjective dimension of cognition enables the achievement of certain kind of cognitive successes that would be not achievable by a single individual. These cognitive successes should be understood as a cognitive transformation of the agents and the environment through social interactions. What is the machinery that enables the process of cognitive transformation? One reply comes from enactivism (De Jaegher et al 2010), but it radically transforms the representational theory of cognition that belongs to the extended mind. My thesis is that the socially extended mind needs to embrace the distributed account on cognition (Hutchins 1995) to provide a consistent reply to the question, without denying its foundation. After having depicted the distributed model, I will evaluate its explanatory power for the socially extended mind, especially in relation to the notion of complementarity among different functions within a dynamic system. In the meantime, I will address some challenges regarding the notion of decentralisation.

Section: Group Cognition and Mental Phenomena

Kourken Michaelian (University of Dunedin): Collective memory: Metaphor or reality?

The concept of collective memory has currency both in the social sciences, in research focusing on how societies and other large-scale groups remember their pasts, and in psychology, in research on how married couples, parent-child dyads, and other small-scale groups remember events together. But how seriously should we take the concept? Is collective memory a mere metaphor? Or are (some) groups (sometimes) literally capable of remembering? The first part of this talk develops a critical perspective on large-scale collective memory, looking at three case studies: Anastasio et al.'s (2012) treatment of collective consolidation, Szpunar and Szpunar's (2015) treatment of collective future thought, and Tanesini's (forthcoming) treatment of collective amnesia, arguing that, in each case, the collective phenomenon in question is in fundamental respects disanalogous to the individual phenomenon to which it is compared. The second part of the talk develops a more optimistic perspective on small-scale collective memory, arguing that it is more plausible that transactive memory systems (e.g., Harris et al. 2017) are literally capable of remembering.

Tillmann Vierkant (University of Edinburgh): Willpower and Social Tying to the Mast

In past work (2014, 2015) I have argued that on closer examination the distinction between willpower and tying to the mast strategies cannot be sustained.  If we plausibly assume that the exercise of willpower consists in an intentional action that prevents re-evaluation then exercising willpower always is about disabling the evaluative agent and it is no longer possible to claim that willpower maintains rational agency under temptation in a way that tying to the mast strategies do not. If we accept this argument, then this has an interesting consequence for social tying to the mast strategies.  It turns out that contrary to the intuitive superiority of willpower it is actually social tying to the mast strategies that have a clear advantage when it comes to rationally evaluating the benefits and costs of a tempting situation. In contrast to the agent aiming to achieve the self-control aim all by herself the self control helper has no need to tamper with her evaluative abilities in the tempting situation and she is therefore in a rationally advantageous position to make the right call. I will explore whether this should lead us to re-evaluate the relative importance of social and non social self control strategies.

Christoph Michel (University of Regensburg): Cooperative epistemic irrationality

Groups often fail, sometimes for epistemic reasons. Besides being potential sources of epistemic advantages and rational regulation, groups seem to be potent sources of inhibited epistemic performance and doxastic aberrations. While there is ample evidence for both phenomena from social psychology and social choice theory (and everyday experience), only insufficient attention has been paid to the analysis of self-induced misbeliefs in groups and its potential to account for cases of – sometimes dramatic – failure. Beyond showing comparatively simple and innocent epistemic weaknesses, the interesting cases are those of rationally capable groups generating misbeliefs that are surprising and more difficult to comprehend, especially from an outsider’s perspective. Unjustified levels of credence or straightforward misbeliefs – e.g. that the earth is flat – are sustained in ways and to degrees of which individuals as parts of neutral social environments would seem hardly capable. Epistemic failures of rationally capable groups call for an explanation in terms of cooperative epistemic irrationality. We can distinguish cooperative irrationality from innocent epistemic mistakes in groups caused by mistaken or epistemically irresponsible individuals, from simple structural flaws, from the proliferation or inheritance of errors as well as from “cold” group-polarization. Moreover, cooperative irrationality is capable of sustaining itself free and independent from external coercion or deliberate institutional control. This talk develops the notion of cooperative irrationality to explain the powers of groups for shared misbelief. It thereby focuses on the challenging case of group self-deception in which groups possess the rational capacities to process accessible evidence but cooperate in controlling for the fulfillment of their shared doxastic preferences. This happens below the level of collective intentionality.

Section: Group Cognition, Societies and Social Ontology

Natalia Danilkina (University of Groningen): Talking on the European specters: a critique of the common knowledge

In contemporary political discourse, knowledge remains an important and widely discussed topic. The “knowledge-based” economy, politics, and society are presented as unarguably attractive alternatives to illiteracy, dilettantism and backwardness. Despite a breakthrough in sociology of knowledge in the last century, while talking about all these matters, knowledge is often taken as an abstract common good regardless the inner diversity of society. The aim of this paper is to reintroduce the microsociology of knowledge into the discussion of European and Europe-oriented social and economic policies. According to Georges Gurvitch, one of the founders of the sociology of knowledge, microsociology is “not more than the study of relationships between the particular groups and knowledge” (Gurvitch 1971, 46). He highlights the importance of the microsociological studies objecting the presupposition that knowledge and the collective mentality which serves as its basis should only be related to global societies and social classes due to the greatness of their impact on groups and individuals. The dialectical bonds between the micro and macro levels, Gurvitch claims, are neglected in this case. I will present a critical analysis of this argument, and then try to extend it in order to debunk the phantom of knowledge, which reappears in the broadly construed “knowledge society” discourse as soon as the inner diversity of society and types of knowledge are disregarded.

Giuliano Torrengo (University of Milan): Institutions and distributed cognition

Many views in social ontology share an “Assumption of Continuity” according to which society is composed basically of collective intentions and cooperative behaviours, and this is so both for informal contexts involving small groups and for complex institutional structures. I have recently argued against such an assumption and in favour of a view — Institutional Externalism — according to which at the heart of institutional reality there is the fact that elements such as laws, contracts, and the like (what I will call “enactments”) are regarded as valid and binding not in virtue of their content but because they are produced according to an established procedure. I have labeled this view “institutional externalism”. In this paper, I elaborate further Institutional Externalism in opposition to more popular views based on the Assumption of Continuity.

Angelica Kaufmann (University of Göttingen): How evolutionary primitive are social entities?

Social ontology consists in the study of social entities. These social entities only exist in virtue of collective acceptance or recognition, or acknowledgement by two or more individuals in the context of joint activities. Joint activities are made possible by the coordination of plans for action, and the coordination of plans for action is made possible by the capacity to share joint distal intentions. This paper questions how primitive is the capacity that nonhuman animals have to create social entities. Within social ontology, we can explore the primitiveness of social entities in two ways: evolutionarily, by arguing that nonhuman animals can create and share social entities; and metaphysically, by arguing that social entities are created and shared upon collective distal intentions which are irreducible to individual distal intentions. In this paper I offer a novel argument for the evolutionary primitiveness of social entities by denying the metaphysical irreducibility of collective distal intentions upon which these social entities are created and shared. This strategy allows for the analysis of social entities existing among chimpanzee populations.

31 maggio 2017
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