Why We Cooperate, Michael Tomasello (by Mattia Gallotti)

lunedì, gennaio 10, 2011
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Why We Cooperate, Michael Tomasello. MIT Press, 2009. Pp. XVIII + 206.
[Forthcoming in Economics&Philosophy (2011)]

Mattia Gallotti
University of Exeter

«Based on the 2008 Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Why We Cooperate is Michael Tomasello’s answer to the perennial question: What makes humans special? A psychologist with interests that span from anthropology to philosophy, Tomasello is one of the most influential voices in the contemporary field of cooperation studies. Based on threefold research in primate cognition, developmental social cognition and language acquisition, over the last two decades he has devised a theory of sociality that falls, broadly, into the area of empirical social ontology. His approach draws on the conceptual resources of collective, or shared, intentionality theory – one of philosophers’ most fruitful recent contributions to the study of cooperation – to interpret the results of a battery of ingenious experiments with infants and our nearest primate relatives, such as chimpanzees. Tomasello is thus the first scientist who tries to explicate human sociality using the resources of the shared intentionality paradigm.

The idea behind Why We Cooperate, that some ‘group-thinking’ ability underlies cooperative behaviour, is hardly new. The key insight, which is known from the work of philosophers like Raimo Tuomela, Margaret Gilbert and John Searle, is that people act out of intentional attitudes of a special type –‘collective’ or ‘shared’ attitudes – when they do things together. To give a simple example, imagine we decide to visit an art gallery and check out in advance the opening times and available exhibitions. There is a distributive reading on which the collective action requires you and I to do our parts (you check opening times, I check the exhibitions) individually, but this is not the sense in which we commonly understand joint-action claims. In fact, it would not be our action if you asked about the opening times, and I asked about the exhibitions, without the intention to achieve the goal together. There is more to the intention of acting jointly than the intentions of the individual agents to do their parts. (…) » (download)

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