Seminar “Joint Action, Commitment and Agreement”

Start Date: 2009-06-05

End Date: 2009-06-05

Location: "Steward House", UCL, London

Country: United Kingdom

Liaison: Cost Action IC0801


Carles Sierra was the representative of COST Action IC0801 at the Seminar “Joint Action, Commitment and Agreement”, organised by the University of London and the Institute of Philosophy & University of Manchester.

Margaret Gilbert from the University of Irvine talked about agreements, rights and join intentions. Informal agreements give participants claim rights. A person having a right means that he/she is in a position to demand the action on which the right exists. Margaret argued that agreements do not necessarily imply joint intentions as the signator may not intend to fulfil the agreement when signing it. agreements, on the other hand, imply commitments for a plan as agreements comes from decisions and personal decisions are commitments. Thus, agreements, as commitments, add to the normative load of the signatories. In other words, decisions are normative constraints.

Thomas Smith talked about collective self governance and discussed about collective intentions. He claimed that intentions are instances of properties and that there are two types, individual or plural e.g. being a couple. he challenged the naive thinking that there can be something like a collective mind. Intentions are properties of the mind and thus cannot be shared.

Oliver Black, from King’s college, defended the thesis that agreements and intentions are loosely coupled and that law tightens them. He challenged the concept of concurrence of wills as a requirement for an agreement.

Thomas Pink, form king’s college, defended the thesis that promises are in fact a mechanism to signal reciprocity to the others; he gave a very academic discussion on several British philosophers on the notion of promise. An important point of his talk was that institutions help people make agreements, set obligations and keep them.

Michael Bratman, from Stanford, gave a clear talk about the notion of shared intentions. He discussed the example of a couple talking together along the street; for him intention is a state of mind that explains behaviour, shared intention means that each of the members of the group has the intention, that intentions are interlocked, that the plans to get the action done can be merged together, that each one will help the other and that there is an interdependence in the persistence of the intention.  Shared intentions have an important explanatory power, specally for modest sociality (informal agreements). Then he moved to talk about joint intention as a mutual obligation between two agents through mutual interaction. Differently from shared intention, joint commitement is a normative concept, that is there are obligations involved. A discussion was followed in which Margaret challenged the fact that joint commitments imply obligations and instead she defended that obligations are “grounded” on joint commitments.  The overall idea of prof. Bratman is that in the same way that intention explains the behaviour of an individual, joint intentions explain co-ordinated action.

The meeting was very interesting overall and clarified different points that are important for the automatic establishment of agreements.