WE-INTENTIONS REVISITED

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1 Philosophical Studies (2005) 125: Springer 2005 WE-INTENTIONS REVISITED ABSTRACT. This paper gives an up-to-date account of we-intentions and responds to some critics of the author s earlier work on the topic in question. While the main lines of the new account are basically the same as before, the present account considerably adds to the earlier work. For one thing, it shows how we-intentions and joint intentions can arise in terms of the so-called Bulletin Board View of joint intention acquisition, which relies heavily on some underlying mutually accepted conceptual and situational presuppositions but does not require agreement making or joint intention to form a joint intention. The model yields categorical, unconditional intentions to participate in the content of the we-intention and joint intention (viz. shared we-intention upon analysis). The content of a we-intention can be, but need not be a joint action. Thus a participant alone cannot settle and control the content of the intention. Instead the participants jointly settle the content and control the satisfaction of the intention. These and some other features distinguish we-intentions from action intentions, viz. intentions that an agent can alone settle and satisfy. The paper discusses weintentions (and other aim-intentions ) from this perspective and it also defends the author s earlier account against a charge of vicious circularity that has been directed against it. I. INTRODUCTION You and I may share the plan to carry a heavy table jointly upstairs and realize this plan. In this case we both can be said to have the joint intention jointly to carry the table upstairs: the content of the intention here involves our performing something together and the pronoun we of course refers to us, viz. you and me together. In my earlier work I have often taken joint intentions to be expressible by means of locutions like We will do X, where the word will is used conatively (rather than predictively, in the future tense) and X is a joint action type (cf. Tuomela, 1984, 1995, 2000a, b; Tuomela and Miller, 1988). However, as joint intentions can also have other contents, I will in this paper speak of the jointly intending agents jointly seeing to it (jstit) that a state or event obtains. They can thus

2 328 jointly see to it that they jointly build a house, that one of them builds it, or that some outsiders are hired to do the job, and so on. I have chosen jstit as my umbrella term as it covers many kinds of activities e.g. jointly performing actions in a direct or in an indirect sense, jointly bringing about states, jointly maintaining states, and so on (cf. Sandu and Tuomela, 1996; Belnap et al., 2001). Notice however, that in the context of joint intention the actions in question can be of various kinds, as just mentioned, and they can be nonequivalent (e.g. jstit does not entail direct performance nor is the converse true). I take jstit to be a necessarily intentional notion. This fits well with its appearance in the content of joint intention as one cannot non-intentionally satisfy an intention. For some agents jointly to perform an action there must of course logically be an opportunity for them to do it. Thus they cannot open a window if it is already open. Let us call the state of the world where the window is open the result state of the action of opening the window. Seeing to it that the window is open expresses intentional control over the state of the window s being open and requires success (viz., the agents have not seen to it that the window is open unless it is open). The following cases of intentional activity fall under an agent s seeing to it that the window is open: The agent opens the window (by his own direct actions), if it is closed; he keeps it open, if some other agent or something else tries to close it; the agent gets some other agent to open the window, if it is closed; he refrains from preventing another agent from opening the window (see Sandu and Tuomela, 1996; also cf. Belnap et al., 2001, for stit and jstit.) The content of a joint intention has, as it were, two parts. In the case of single-agent intention I take the intention to have the form A intends, by his actions, to perform X or A intends, by his actions, to see to it that X. Analogously with this, we have corresponding to the second alternative in the case of joint agency (here the dyadic case) A and B jointly intend by their actions to perform joint action X or A and B jointly intend to see to it jointly that X (or, from theirperspective, Wewillperform X together ). Accordingly, I suggest that we take the joint intention now to be about jstiting something. This could be also called the first part of the content of the joint intention. What is to be jstited constitutes the second,

3 WE-INTENTIONS REVISITED 329 variable part of the content, and this part need not be performed as a joint action. The first part is the same in all joint intentions. It indicates that the joint intention is oriented towards joint action. We can add that jstiting involves that each participant of joint intention is in principle actionally involved: he has a share or part in the participants jstiting that X. I accordingly claim that the structure of the joint intention here can be expressed by the following in the dyadic case: Agents A and B jointly intend to see to it jointly that X. Here X can be the participants joint action, somebody else s action, some other agents joint action, a state in the world (like that a house is painted or the window is open). Consider the special but central case in which X is a joint action to be performed by A and B. Then my formula becomes, using jstit for joint action allover: A and B jointly intend to see to it jointly that they jstit X, which due to the collapsing property of jstit amounts simply to A and B jointly intend to see to it jointly that X. All intentions are necessarily related to one s own actions. This applies also to joint intentions. In the single-agent case, an agent may intend to see to it that his car is fixed. This intention has as its satisfaction condition that the agent by his own actions sees to it that his car becomes fixed e.g. he can get a mechanic to fix the car or fix it himself. Similarly, in the case of joint intention with the jstit content the participants have to see to it jointly by their actions that the intended state or event comes about. If the intention concerns the direct performance of an action (e.g. when an agent intends to open the window) the agent must himself bring about the satisfaction solely by his own action. This kind of intention I will call (direct) action intention. A minimal rationality condition for an action intention, at least a prior intention, is that the agent must at least lack the belief that it is impossible for him to perform the action. Assuming that at least a prior or future-directed intention involves commitment to the content of the intention, we can ground the previous claim by saying that if he would not so believe it would be pointless for him to commit himself to his task. An action intention contrasts with an aim-intention. In the latter case it is not required that the agent believes that he with some likelihood can alone bring about or see to it that the action or its result event comes about. The kind of aim-intention that will

4 330 concern us in the present paper is we-intention. A we-intention is a participant s slice of their joint intention, so to speak. Or the other way round, it can technically be said that a joint intention consists of the participants we-intentions about the existence of which the participants have mutual belief. Even if we assume that a joint intention is (ontologically) composed of the agents we-intentions about which there is mutual knowledge (or belief), these we-intentions are different from ordinary action intentions not only in being aimintentions but also in that they conceptually depend on the joint intention in question. A we-intention is a special kind of aim-intention involving that the agent we-intends to bring about a state jointly with the other participants or we-intends to perform an action jointly with the others or, to use my general formulation, to see to it jointly with the others that a certain state or event comes about. Considering the joint action case where the agents jointly intend to perform a joint action together, the central condition of satisfaction of the we-intention is that the we-intending agent should intend to participate in the joint action in question. That is, he should intend by his own action, his part or share, to contribute to the joint action. Thus the agent s having the we-intention to perform a joint action entails his participation intention, which is an action intention in my terminology. (This matter will be discussed in detail in Section VI.) An obvious rationality constraint on we-intention is that an agent cannot we-intend unless he believes not only that he can perform his part of their joint action X, but also that he together with his fellow participants can perform X jointly (can jstit X with them) at least with some nonzero probability. The jointly intending agents must believe that the jstit opportunities for an intentional jstiting of X are (or will be) there at least with some probability. Yet another property of a we-intention is that in each participant s view it must be mutually believed by the participants that the presuppositions for the (intentional) jstiting of X hold or will hold with some probability. The formation of a joint intention (and hence we-intention, a personal slice of the joint intention) requires that the participants jointly make up their minds to jstit something, thus exercising joint control over the possible courses of action and settling for a particular content of jstiting. The formation of a joint intention (or plan)

5 WE-INTENTIONS REVISITED 331 is based on their various personal and, especially, joint desires and mutual and other beliefs. In this sense a joint intention can be said to summarize or reflect the motivation underlying joint action. Of course, this final motivation underlying the joint intention need not be anything like an aggregation of private motivations but may instead be a compromise based on discussion, negotiation, or bargaining. In contrast, joint desires and wants do not similarly involve making up one s mind and do not lead to intentional jstiting, to attempts to function rationally in a coordinated way, so as to fulfil the already formed plan; and desires and wants do not require success beliefs as their normal (or normal-rational ) accompaniments. Joint intentions (and hence shared we-intentions) entail collective (or, here equivalently, joint) commitments to action, and this joint commitment also includes that the participants are socially committed to each other to perform their parts of the jstiting. The notions of stiting and jstiting clearly cover more than direct action performance, and this is one reason for employing these notions. Another reason is that they serve to make the structure of joint intention more perspicuous, as seen. Thus they help us to see that joint intentions typically involve not one but two kinds of activity. There is the activity in which the participants see to it that the (second part of the) content comes about and there is the very activity that makes the content obtain. Thus the participants might hire some other agents to build a house. Here the first kind of activity is hiring the agents and monitoring their work; and building the house (performed by the hired agents) is the second kind of activity. Having made these points, I will, however, mostly in this paper speak as if the content of joint intention were a joint action (directly) performed by the jointly intending agents. This is because speaking in terms of jstit becomes rather clumsy. Section II, The Bulletin Board View of Intention Formation, of this paper discusses the conceptual and structural aspects of joint intention formation. While it in part draws on published material, the ideas of this section are extended and deepened later in Section III, We-Intentions and Joint Intentions Analyzed. This section gives a summary account of my theory of joint intention and adds some new aspects to the account. Section IV discusses in more detail the

6 332 epistemic and normative bonds between jointly intending participants. Taken together II IV give an up-to-date theory of joint intention and we-intention. Another central task of this paper is to answer some criticisms directed against my account by Seumas Miller and John Searle. These criticisms relate to the issues of what one really can intend and whether my original (viz and 1988) account of we-intention is viciously circular. These problems are assessed, respectively, in Section V, Collective Ends and We-Intentions, and Section VI, On the Alleged Circularity of the Concept of We-Intention. The concluding section VII summarizes the main achievements of the paper. II. JOINT INTENTION FORMATION In joint-intention formation each participating agent accepts to participate in the participants seeing to it jointly that some state or event X obtains. Concentrating on the central case in which X is a joint action, the agents jointly intend, as a group, to see to it that they perform X jointly. Here each participant accordingly is assumed to intend with a we-perspective together with the others. What does this involve? The agents jointly intend as a group to further the content of the joint intention that they have accepted as the group s intended goal (broadly understood). I have elsewhere used the term we-mode, contrasting with the private or I-mode, to describe the present kind of thinking as a group member or thinking with the weperspective and have offered the following analysis of a we-mode intention (Tuomela, 2002b, p. 30): (WM) Agents A 1,...,A m forming a group, g, share the intention to satisfy a content p (e.g. in our example p = X is jointly performed by the participants) in the we-mode if and only if p is collectively accepted by them qua group members as the content of their collective intention and they are collectively committed to satisfying p for g. Here functioning as a group member entails for our example that the participants function so as to satisfy their shared intention to perform X together (and in more general cases function to further the group s constitutive or main interests, goals, beliefs, and standards). Collective commitment in the joint intention case need not

7 WE-INTENTIONS REVISITED 333 be stronger than what joint intention conceptually entails: When our agents jointly intend X (e.g. a joint action) they must collectively bind themselves to X and what its satisfaction requires. This I call the instrumental sense of collective commitment. This sense is intention-relative and, strictly speaking, non-normative. (In this sense my non-normative account sides with Bratman and Miller against Margaret Gilbert; see Bratman (1999, p. 125ff.), Miller (1995, p. 64), and Gilbert (1990, p. 6f.).) In all, the we-mode in the case of joint intention amounts to saying that the participants must have collectively accepted We together will do X (or one of its variants) for their group, and they must have collectively committed themselves to doing X. Here We together will do X applies to each participant, and in the case of a single participant it expresses his we-intention. An agent s we-intention then is his slice or part of the agents joint intention, and conversely a joint intention can, upon analysis, be said to consist of the participants mutually known we-intentions. The collective acceptance of an intention as the group s intention entails the satisfaction of the so-called Collectivity Condition. Applied to satisfaction, the Collectivity Condition says, roughly, that necessarily, if the joint intention (goal) is (semantically) satisfied for one of the participants, then it is satisfied for all participants. (For a more detailed recent discussion of the we-mode versus the I-mode or individual mode, see Tuomela (2002b, c); note that I-intentions, viz. personal intentions, can be either in the we-mode or in the I-mode.) In the joint intention to perform a joint action X, it is precisely the content of the intention that is shared, viz., the content of doing X jointly is shared. Each agent tokens this content, and because a necessarily act-relational intention is involved this amounts to his intention to perform his part or share of X. The basic argument for assuming that each participant must intend to perform his part of the joint action is that the joint intention can only be satisfied if each participant performs his part for only then will the intentional joint action satisfying the joint intention come about. The part performance must be intentional, of course, and thus based on the agent s intention. In the general case, each agent can be taken to accept We together will jointly see to it that X (or its equivalent) and I

8 334 will participate in, or contribute to, our jointly seeing to it that X, while in the case of directly performable joint action the ( variable ) content of a we-intention can accordingly be taken to be to perform X together, entailing a participation intention for each participant. A we-intention is not by itself an action intention but an aim-intention involving that the agent intentionally aims at X and is aim-committed to X, while his action commitment is to performing his part of X. The agent s intention to perform his part of the joint action accordingly is a proper action intention, thus something the agent believes he can, at least with some probability, satisfy by his own action (given, of course, that the others perform their parts). In this section I will consider the presuppositions of joint intention and the central conceptual elements involved in joint intention formation. I will focus on plan-based joint intentions which express jointly intending as a group and which are public in a group context. A central subclass of such joint intentions is formed by joint intentions based on the participants (explicit or implicit) agreement to act jointly. The making of an agreement in the full sense (viz., accepting a jointly obligating plan) is a joint action which is necessarily intentional. The point about emphasizing this kind of case is obviously that it is conceptually central and also common in actual social life (see Tuomela (1995, Chapter 2; 2002a), on which I will draw below). What does this kind of plan-based joint intention presuppose? Firstly, it must obviously be required of the participants that they understand at least in some rudimentary sense that a joint action in some sense, however weak, is being proposed. The joint action must be taken to include a slot for each participant s intention. In general, all the relevant generic action concepts need to be possessed to a relevant extent by the participants a kind of hermeneutic circle is at play. Thus the notion of joint action opportunity needs to be available. Secondly, there is much other background knowledge, most of it culture-dependent, that is presupposed. Thirdly, and this is most significant, there is situation-specific information that must be presupposed. If the performance of a joint action, X, in a situation, S, is at stake, the concept of X must be possessed by the potential participants, and they must also understand what S

9 WE-INTENTIONS REVISITED 335 involves concerning the performance of X. It is also required that each participant believes that the participants mutually believe that the joint action opportunities for X hold in S (cf. the third clause in my analysis (WI) of we-intentions below in Section III). Some direct or indirect communication (or signaling) between the participants is needed for the reason that the participants are autonomous agents who, nevertheless, must make up their minds depending on what the others are thinking and doing. More concretely, communication is required for them rationally to arrive at unconditional intentions (we-intentions as well as intentions to perform one s part of the joint action). The indirect communication may be previously codified and may relate to certain specified types of situations (cf. in situation S we always form a joint plan of a certain kind and act together ). We can view the joint intention formation in intuitive terms from the group s angle and say in functional terms that we want to have unified group action as a result of a group s intention being properly satisfied. This involves that the group members actions must be suitably bound together and coordinated with each other. Part of this will have to take place at the level of the group s plan of action, assuming that we are dealing with intentional action. The bond here is due to the group s intention to act and its ensuing commitment to action, which makes the members collectively or jointly committed to the action. In cases of jointly intending as a group and thus being collectively committed as group members, the participants are also socially committed to each other to participate. Viewing the matter from the jointness level, viz. on the level of the group members, jointly intending as a group amounts to jointly intending to realize a joint plan. Intuitively, the participants must be suitably bound together for proper collective action purporting to realize the shared plan to come about (and accordingly for their acting as a group). As seen, this activity in general requires public exchange of information between them if it is to lead to mutually known (and not only mutually believed) unconditional participation intentions. Another philosophical reason for publicity in a group context is that such central social notions as the speech acts of agreement making, promising, commanding, and informing all relevant

10 336 to joint-intention formation are in their core sense not only language-dependent but public. The view to be developed below takes all this into account. It presupposes that the participants understand in a colloquial sense what acting together and a plan (or an agreement) to act together are. I will below analyze the conceptually central elements in the formation of a full-blown joint intention to act together and do it in terms of a metaphor, the Bulletin Board metaphor. The resulting Bulletin Board View (BBV) bases joint intentions on a publicly shared plan of joint action and thereby emphasizes the epistemic publicity (the public availability of relevant information) of fullblown joint intention, as will be seen. While publicity is central in this view, in principle one can also formulate a similar view without the publicity requirement (see below). Suppose that one of us comes up with the idea of cleaning a park. This is the proposed joint action content. That person may publicly communicate this to other group members. We may conceptualize and illustrate the present situation in terms of the following Bulletin Board View of joint intention formation. The initiating member s or organizer s proposal (or, more generally, plan for joint action) can be thought to be written on a public bulletin board: Members of group g will clean the park next Saturday. Those who will participate, please sign up here. Here will in the latter sentence is taken to express intention and not only prediction. Supposing that the ensuing communicative signaling of acceptance to participate (under the presupposition that sufficiently many others participate) results in a wide uptake and whole-hearted acceptance (signing) of this proposal, then given (communication-based) mutual knowledge about this there will be an adequate plan involving a joint intention to clean the park. The participants whole-hearted acceptance is assumed to entail that the participants form the intention to participate in joint action. As seen, this is a two-faced intention, so to speak. There is, firstly, each signed-up participant s we-intention to clean the park, and, secondly, his intention to carry out his part or share of the cleaning (qua his share of it). Furthermore, the participants because of having expressed their personal participation intentions have jointly exercised control over what to do together

11 WE-INTENTIONS REVISITED 337 and made up their minds to clean the park. Thus their joint intention to clean the park has come into existence. In a slightly stronger case the participants not only accept a shared plan of joint action but in effect make an explicit or implicit agreement (made up of interdependent promises) to perform it (cf. the discussion in Gilbert, 1993; Bach, 1995). Here it holds, on conceptual grounds, that making an agreement in this sense gives each participant a reason for action, viz., his promise. Furthermore, promising also gives a reason for the other participants to normatively expect that the other participants indeed will participate. Thus, we can say that here a participant has the right to expect that the others will perform their parts and is also obliged to respect their analogous rights. In this sense they are normatively socially committed. The central thing about BBV is of course its general conceptual content, although I have in part used concrete and partly metaphorical language in stating the view. From a conceptual and theoretical point of view, the present model of joint intention formation involves the following elements. First, the content of the joint intention must be brought to the participants attention. I call this the topic problem. There may be an initiator who proposes the topic, or the participants may arrive at the topic by means of their negotiation or joint decision making. They might thus consider their preferences for the different action alternatives and arrive at a joint decision by a suitable decision rule, e.g. the majority vote. In this kind of case the participants of course, so to speak, sign the bulletin board proposal only after the topic has been decided upon. In other cases, the topic may be suggested to them by their shared history or background knowledge in conjunction with some relevant contextual information. For instance, the participants may share the standing want to keep the park clean and when they learn that a garbage collector will arrive the next morning they may gather that the park cleaning is the thing to do tonight. In BBV this element can be indicated by the appearance on the bulletin board of the description of the topic (here park cleaning). The set of potential participants will be the members of a group, g, and this must be knowable to the potential participants. The actual participants or at least a suitable subset of them sufficient to get

12 338 the joint action initiated and under way will have to be publicly named or indicated. The central element again is the public availability of the information about the intention to participate; this aspect is also relevant concerning newcomers and persons who have to change plans for some reason. The participants will pick up that information and this will lead them to believe that those signed up will participate. What is more, they will also be able to acquire mutual knowledge (or minimally mutual true belief) about this, for they will come to know that the others know that those persons will participate; and this can be iterated if needed. The publicity requirement in BBV is a kind of public communication requirement in the sense discussed earlier. It is a particular contingent feature of BBV that the information gathering and delivery is centralized so that, e.g., pairwise communication is not needed. However, this is a practical feature that is not conceptually essential and can easily be changed. But publicity in group context is still philosophically central in that it creates a quasi-objective realm, viz.,arealm which is objective for the participants,and which is more prone to lead to actual objective knowledge than weaker views (as the participation intentions are objectively out there as stated on the bulletin board). There is thus a kind of group-relative objectivity both ontically and epistemically involved here. Furthermore, as compared with less public methods, in the case of large groups, new participants, and participants that have changed their intentions, etc., knowledge can then better be gathered and checked. In our metaphor, there may be information written on the board and there is also information in a special box beneath the board called Presuppositions and Background Knowledge. Typically only situational information is written on the board, and the rest, viz., general background assumptions and maybe some obvious kind of situational information is available in the presuppositions box. Somewhere there should also be information about whether the participants only are forming a shared plan for joint action based on publicly expressed intentions or are also making a full-blown agreement (in terms of interdependent promises) to act jointly and in this thick normative sense accept a joint plan (see Section IV). The present approach has several virtues. Firstly, it gives categorical joint intentions (without the problems concerned with decondi-

13 WE-INTENTIONS REVISITED 339 tionalization or with change of view see Tuomela, 2002a). BBV is not concerned with proper conditional intentions at all (although extendable to deal with them as well). The belief that sufficiently many participate can be regarded as a presupposition rather than a (contingent) condition, and this is of course a presupposition binding all the participants (a collectivity condition is at play here). A participant thus categorically commits himself when signing up, although he may retract his commitment if he comes to believe that a relevant presupposition is not satisfied. Secondly, there is no need for a prior joint intention to form a joint intention, as mere personal intentions are enough for entering one s signature on the board. Thirdly, the view can treat the participants either symmetrically or asymmetrically, depending on the demands of the situation (e.g., Bach s (1995) offer-acceptance model concerns pairwise communication and is asymmetric). Fourthly, BBV is capable of yielding epistemically strong (if not the strongest) joint intentions in the sense that all the information that so to speak goes into the joint intention is publicly available and publicly checkable. The BBV covers all public joint intentions to act jointly or, for that matter, to jointly see to it that a state or event obtains. Thus it covers all publicly indicated and accepted joint intentions, be the acceptance thick or thin, and all group-public cases subsumable under the label jointly intending as a group. In such cases it will typically also be correct in general to attribute the joint intention to the group in question and to say that the group intends to perform the action in question see Tuomela (1995, Chapter 5) for some qualifications. However, in contrast to the public BBV spoken above, one can also formulate and deal with a purely intersubjective and nonpublic BBV in which everything is based only on beliefs and mutual beliefs viz., beliefs about who are potential and actual participants and beliefs about the topic of the joint intention and about the participants participation intentions, about their shared background knowledge and situational information. Thus, if the participants accept a content (intention content or belief content) which they purport to be for the group, if they are collectively (and socially) committed to the content, and if there is mutual belief (but perhaps not mutual knowledge about the participants accept-

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