Group Minds and Natural Kinds

Avant: Trends in Interdisciplinary Studies (forthcoming)
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The claim is frequently made that structured collections of individuals who are themselves subjects of mental and cognitive states – such collections as courts, countries, and corporations – can be, and often are, subjects of mental or cognitive states. And, to be clear, advocates for this so-called group-minds hypothesis intend their view to be interpreted literally, not metaphorically. The existing critical literature casts substantial doubt on this view, at least on the assumption that groups are claimed to instantiate the same species of mental and cognitive properties as individual humans. In this essay, I evaluate a defensive move made by some proponents of the group-oriented view: to concede that group states and individual states aren’t of the same specific natural kinds, while holding that groups instantiate different species of mental or cognitive states – perhaps a different species of cognition itself – from those instantiated by humans. In order to evaluate this defense of group cognition, I develop a view of natural kinds – or at least of the sort of evidence that supports inferences to the sameness of natural kind – a view I have previous dubbed the ‘tweak-and-extend’ theory. Guided by the tweak-and-extend approach, I arrive at a tentative conclusion: that what is common to models of individual cognitive processing and models of group processing does not suffice to establish sameness of cognitive (or mental) kinds, properties, or state-types, not even at a generic or overarching level.

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Robert D. Rupert
University of Colorado, Boulder


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