Questioning Individual Intentional Autonomy in Collective Intentionality

with Bas Leijssenaar

Most accounts of collective intentionality adhere to the individual ownership claim: that only individuals can have intentions and perform actions. All interpretations of the individual ownership claim adhere to some form of individual intentional autonomy: that individuals are responsible for their behaviour as agents and that their behaviour can be ascribed to them as actions for which they can claim ownership. However, despite the apparent importance that the current literature assigns to individual intentional autonomy, the meaning of the concept ‘autonomy’ remains unclear. Additionally, individual intentional autonomy and individual motivational autarky are often mixed up, adding to the confusion about individual ownership and autonomy. We explore possible interpretations of the individual autonomy claim to see whether they are viable. Through data found in developmental psychology, social psychology, and social and political philosophy we hope to show that individual intentional autonomy is hampered on many different levels. A revaluation of the claims at the basis of most accounts of collective intentionality, in particular the individual ownership claim and the role of individual intentional autonomy, is needed. Our considerations point at the fact that although intentionality, qua mental state, might indeed be owned by the individual, individuals do not ‘own’—are not autonomous—in regard to the contents of their intentions. Does this mean that such intentions are no longer—or not solely— ‘ours’? Are intentions caused by ‘influence’ no longer the result of individual autonomy and can we still consider them intentions? In order to better understand the relation between individual and collective intentions, the social determination of intentions and the situatedness of individual autonomy should be taken into consideration.

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