Can groups have concepts? Semantics for collective intentions

Philosophical Issues 24 (1):347-363 (2014)
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A substantial literature supports the attribution of intentional states such as beliefs and desires to groups. But within this literature, there is no substantial account of group concepts. Since on many views, one cannot have an intentional state without having concepts, such a gap undermines the cogency of accounts of group intentionality. In this paper I aim to provide an account of group concepts. First I argue that to fix the semantics of the sentences groups use to make their decisions or express their beliefs, we need to appeal to a conventional semantics like that of Lewis. I then argue that the same reasons we have for taking group intentional states to be irreducible to the intentional states of their members apply also to the terms fixed by a conventional semantics. It follows that the meanings of terms in the sentences expressing a group's intentional states are also fixed by facts about the group, not its members. And recognizing this, I argue, amounts to attributing concepts to groups. Finally, I discuss a real-life example of a group concept—the meaning of ‘meter’ as fixed by the International Bureau of Weights and Measurements—and I discuss the upshot of these considerations for the question of social externalism about concepts
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Relevance, Communication and Cognition.Sperber, Dan & Wilson, Deirdre

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