Normative Expectations in Purposive Joint Action

My current project focuses on the intersection between skills and habits, joint action and interaction, and normativity. The philosophical puzzle is this: how can we retain rationality as a normative criterion for individual and joint action, given the indicated complexity of human behavior?

Traditionally, philosophers who emphasized the first category of purposive action have argued that rationality is best understood as coherence between different beliefs and desires. We do the things for which we have reasons “all things considered”.

In at least two ways this picture matches well with how people understand and describe themselves. First, we usually find ourselves in a position where we are able to explain our behavior by means of reasons. Second, we all agree that holding contradicting beliefs, desires, and intentions is undesirable. In this sense, coherence forms a normative criterion for most of our behavior and is deeply engrained in our expectation towards others. As such, it is relevant for individuals and for others they engage with in cooperative agency. There is, however, a stark tension between the philosophical idea (and normative expectation) that our behavior is guided by rationality as coherence and empirical findings in psychological research, which emphasize the second category of purposive action.

Present debates on heuristic processes, naturalistic decision making, skillful action, and habits show that people’s actions are most-times guided by less demanding rationalities. Most human behaviors, these debates show, are only indirectly related to an “all-things-considered” reason. Humans rely predominantly on ‘fast’, heuristic cognition.

Although heuristic processes are flexible, goal-oriented, and intelligent, and in this sense “rational”, they do not follow the strong coherence constraints on rationality that are specified by many philosophers. Unlike “all things considered” rationality, heuristic cognition does not necessarily (or at least less heavily) rely on “working memory” or on “linguistic capacities”.

Consequently, heuristic cognition provides only limited resources for rationality and normativity. Nevertheless, given the reliance on heuristic processes in general, we can reasonably assume that heuristic processes allow for joint, collaborative action and fundamentally shape human sociality.

To understand these relations I focus on social psychology and cognitive science on automaticity and ‘implicit’ cognition, the literature on capacities and dispositions, and the American pragmatist tradition.

The field of collective intentionality has long recognised a problem with authority when agents jointly intent and act. Both habits and skillful action are inconsistent with the notion of autonomy in philosophy of action. I translate these findings from individual action to joint action. What role(s) does habitual and skillful joint action play in collective intentionality?

A second aim is to theorize about the impact of such an account on our understanding of the normative expectations and judgments involved in purposive joint agency. If joint purposive action plays a major role in the general tissue of social life – in customs, norms, (sub-)cultures, ways of life, social milieus, providing conceptual tools for thinking about the middle ground between the merely aggregate emergent and the fully joint actions allow us to think about responsibility in new ways.