are children capable of collective intentionality?
Keywords:collective intentionality, agency, cooperation, family
The family presents an interesting challenge to many conceptions of collective activity and the makeup of social groups. Social philosophers define social groups as being comprised of individuals who knowingly consent to their group membership or voluntarily act to continue their group membership. This notion of voluntarism that is built into the concept of a social group rests upon a narrow conception of agency that is difficult to extend beyond able-minded autonomous adults. Families, however, are often comprised of members who supposedly lack this developed sense of agency and are therefore considered incapable of consenting to join or remain in a group: infants and small children. So, the family seems to be an odd fit for the designation of social group, even though it is often heralded as a paradigm example of one. In this paper I argue that children and infants are in fact agents who are capable of collective intentionality, especially in the context of the family where they act cooperatively and reciprocally with their caretakers. In doing so, I present an understanding of the family as a social group that has degrees of voluntarism for all members in the forms of joint readiness and joint commitment. I argue for this in three steps. First, I employ Margaret Gilbert’s concepts of joint commitment and joint readiness as a framework for collective intentionality. Second, echoing Carol Gould, I argue that we ought to expand our understanding of agency beyond the ideal case. Third, I draw upon recent research from Michael Tomasello that demonstrate a child’s ability to act cooperatively and reciprocally. Together these steps provide a strong foundation for the claim that children and infants are agents capable of collective intentionality within families.