Conversation_and_collective_belief_paper.doc

Summative accounts of collective beliefs what may at

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Summative accounts of collective beliefs What may at first seem to be an attractive account of collective belief ascriptions is expressed by Anthony Quinton who writes: 4 Does such a conversational pair constitute a group as opposed to a mere plurality of persons? Perhaps not prior to the conversation; once the conversation has started, it would seem that the answer is affirmative. See Simmel (1971: 24). For lengthy exploration of the relatively substantial idea of a group that is in play here see Gilbert (1989: ch. 4; 2006: ch. 8). Groups of this kind differ among themselves, of course, in important ways. One intuitive starting point that will be assumed in what follows is Rousseau’s idea that a group in the sense in question is an association of some kind as opposed to a mere aggregate of persons. 3
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4 We do, of course, speak freely of the mental properties and acts of a group in the way we do of individual people. Groups are said to have beliefs, emotions, and attitudes and to take decisions and make promises. But these ways of speaking are plainly metaphorical. To ascribe mental predicates to a group is always an indirect way of ascribing such predicates to its members. With such mental states as beliefs and attitudes the ascriptions are of what I have called a summative kind. To say that the industrial working class is determined to resist anti-trade union laws is to say that all or most industrial workers are so minded. [Emphasis added.] 5 The above italicized account will be referred to as “summative” here, but the term will be used in a broader sense than Quinton’s: A summative account of collective beliefs is one according to which, for a group G to believe that p it is logically necessary that all or most members of G believe that p. The condition that all or most members of G believe that p will be referred to as the summative condition . Is the correct account of collective belief a summative one? Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of sociology, can be read as rejecting a summative account of collective beliefs. In The Rules of Sociological Method Durkheim expressed the view that anything properly called a collective belief will be “external to individual consciousnesses.” How should this phrase be interpreted? Textual evidence suggests that a collective belief is “external to individual consciousnesses” insofar as it is not necessary for any individual member of a group to believe that p in order for the group to believe that p. 6 Could that possibly be correct? While this paper will not attempt further to discuss Durkheim, it will present considerations that support a positive answer. First, it argues that fulfillment of the summative condition with respect to some proposition p is neither necessary nor sufficient for the collective belief that p . It starts with the issue of sufficiency .
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