Group Minds

Group Minds

Prof Deborah Tollefsen
University of Memphis


This talk discusses some of the historical developments of the idea of group minds and the resurrection of the idea in contemporary philosophy of mind and cognitive science.  I begin with a discussion of how the idea of group mind is part of the social imaginary.  I then turn to consider the ways in which the idea has turned up in different time periods.  In particular, I focus on 19th and 20th century social scientists and their attempt to make sense of the social world by appeal to something like group minds.  Having considered a brief history of the idea I turn to contemporary discussions of group mind.  I identify three developments in philosophy that have paved the way for the resurrection of group minds and discuss a number of recent works on group cognition and group agency.


Further questions

  1. The idea of group minds in the late 19th century and early 20th century developed in the context of certain political and social upheavals (e.g. the industrial revolution, the rise of fascismand totalitarianism). Are there political, economic, and social issues today that are motivating (if not explicitly, implicitly) a return to the idea of group minds?

  2. If groups are minded and can act in the world can they be held morally responsible for their actions?

  3. Is individual autonomy and self-determination neces sarily threatened by group minds?

  4. Suppose methodological collectivism (holism) is true, does this commit one to an unacceptable ontology in which groups exist “over and above” their members?


Essential Reading


Further reading

  • Biro, J. (1981). Persons as corporate entities and corporations as persons. Nature and System 3: 173-80.

  • Bratman, M. (2014). Shared Agency: a planning theory of acting together. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

  • Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. (1998).  The extended mind. Analysis 58:10-23.

  • Gilbert, M. (2013). Joint commitment. US: Oxford University Press. 

  • Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. MA: MIT Press.

  • LeBon, G. (1895). The crowd: a study of the popular mind.

  • McDougall, W. (1920).  Group minds.

  • Searle, J. (1997). The Construction of Social Reality. Free Press. 

  • Theiner, G., Allen, C. & Goldstone, R. (2010). Recognizing group cognition. Cognitive Systems Research 11, 378-395.

  • Tollefsen, D. (2006). From extended mind to collective mind. Cognitive Systems Research 7(2), 140-150.  

  • Wilson, R. (2004). Boundaries of the Mind. Cambridge University Press.