Bratman, Searle, and Simplicity. A comment on Bratman, Shared Agency: A Planning Theory of Acting Together


  • Björn Petersson Lund University


Michael Bratman, shared agency, collective action, collectivity, John Searle


Michael Bratman’s work is established as one of the most important philosophical approaches to group agency so far, and Shared Agency, A Planning Theory of Acting Together confirms that impression. In this paper I attempt to challenge the book’s central claim that considerations of theoretical simplicity will favor Bratman’s theory of collective action over its main rivals. I do that, firstly, by questioning whether there must be a fundamental difference in kind between Searle style we-intentions and I-intentions within that type of framework. If not, Searle’s type of theory need not be less qualitatively parsimonious than Bratman’s. This hangs on how we understand the notions of modes and contents of intentional states, and the relations between modes, contents, and categorizations of such states. Secondly, by questioning whether Bratman’s theory steers clear of debunking or dismissing collectivity. Elsewhere I have claimed that the manoeuvres Bratman suggested to avoid circularity in his conceptual analysis (in 1992 and 1997) undermine the strength of his resulting notion of collective action. Bratman responds in detail to this objection in his new book and I return to the issue towards the end of the paper.


Bratman, M. (1992): “Shared Cooperative Activity” The Philosophical Review ci (1992) 327–341 (also in Faces of Intention. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1999).

Bratman, M. (1997): “I Intend That We J,” In: Raimo Tuomela and Ghita Holmström-Hintikka, eds., Contemporary Action Theory, Boston: Kluwer, 1997 (also in Bratman, Faces of Intention. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1999), pp. 142–65).

Bratman, M. (2014): Shared Agency: A Planning Theory of Acting Together. Oxford, New York: Oxford UP.

Husserl, E. (2001 [1900]): Logical Investigations. Routledge, New York.

Mathiesen, Kay. (2002): “Searle, Collective Intentions, and Individualism.” In: Meggle (Ed.): Social Facts and Collective Intentionality, German Library of Sciences, Philosophical Research, Vol. 1, 187–204. Frankfurt: Dr. Hänsel-Hohenhausen AG.

Petersson, B. (2007): “Collectivity and Circularity”. In: Journal of Philosophy 104. No. 3, vol. CIV, No 3, p. 138–156.

Petersson, B. (2008): “Collective Omissions and Responsibility”. In: Philosophical Papers 37 No. 2, p. 243–261.

Recanati, F. (2007) “It is Raining (Somewhere)”. In: Linguistics and Philosophy 30. No. 1, p. 123–146.

Recanati, F. (2009): Perspectival Thought: A Plea for Moderate Relativism. Oxford, New York: Oxford UP.

Searle, J. (1983) Intentionality. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge UP.

Tuomela, R (2006) “Joint Intention, We-Mode and I-Mode” Midwest Studies in Philosophy No. 30, p. 35–58.




How to Cite

Petersson, Björn. 2014. “Bratman, Searle, and Simplicity. A Comment on Bratman, Shared Agency: A Planning Theory of Acting Together”. Journal of Social Ontology 1 (1). Vienna, Austria:27-37.



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