The Projects

Group Thinking: New Foundations (2019-2024)

I’m delighted to announce the start of a new 5 year project at Leeds, once more funded by the European Research Council. The project is Group thinking: new foundations (GROUNDS). This project will build on the research carried out in the earlier Nature of Representation project. A lengthy extract from the scientific proposal is available. A taster follows:

The beliefs, desires and actions of groups are central to our lives. Small teams struggle to reach collective decisions that will further their joint goals in light of shared beliefs. Corporations declare allegiance to core values and are criticized when they act in ways that subvert those values. Political commentators deprecate false beliefs of the public-at-large, or insist that politicians conform to the “the will of the people”. Part of the ordinary conception of the world we live in thus involves ‘group entities’ (the people, the public, corporations, or teams) having beliefs and desires which influence their behavior.

Collective attitudes appear in systematic theory in social ontology, in ethical and political philosophy, in game theory and formal pragmatics, and in social psychology and cognitive science. However, discourse ascribing collective attitudes can seem irredeemably contested. When someone makes a claim about the state of the economy, we can look to statistics to check their facts. But when they make a claim about the will of the people (or the aims of an institution, or the false beliefs of a team), it is radically unclear what facts would vindicate or refute it.

The aim of the current project is to provide a new metaphysics of collective representation. This will reveal the underlying unity between the facts which constitute the beliefs and desires of individuals, and the facts which constitute the beliefs and desire of groups. The account will provide criteria for demarcating which groups genuinely have beliefs and desires, distinguishing this state of affairs from circumstances where attributing beliefs and desires is mere “loose talk”. The outcome will be new and rigorous foundations for theory, and for public discourse, about group belief and desire.

The Nature of Representation (2012-17). 

Mental representation — perception and cognition — unites humans and other animals. Linguistic representation differentiates humans from other animals. But representation in either form is a phenomenon that cries out for explanation. How does one thing—a volley of sensation, a pattern of neurons firing in the head, or a sequence of sounds or written marks—“stand for” or “represent” another? However we answer this question, what are the means by which we find out about it? And for what purposes do we need to appeal to representation in the first place?

The Nature of Representation was a five-year project, funded by the European Research Council, on the metaphysics and epistemology of representation. The project is located at the University of Leeds under the direction of Robert Williams (School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science).

Find out who we are under “People”. Find reports of what we did for each year of the project under the “What we did” tab.  Details of what we read each week and what speakers spoke about are in the “seminar” tab. Interim news and reports are in the “news” tab.

If you’re visiting Leeds, a google map with listing of restaurants, coffee shops, lunch venues, pubs and places of interest is available at this link. The guardian’s budget eats guide is worth checking out for some more detail on a few of the places highlighted in the map.

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