New ERC project: GROUNDS

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, Group thinking: new foundations (GROUNDS). This ERC Consolidator award builds on the research carried out in the Nature of Representation ERC Starter award over the last five years. 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 project will last five years, from March 2019 to February 2024.

Year 1: Group thought in context.
The explanatory role of group thought inside and outside philosophy, common knowledge and group thought.

Year 2: Source intentionality
From individual to joint evidence, from individual to joint action

Year 3: Representation and persistence
Personal identity and the foundations of representation; Group identity and the foundations of representation.

Year 4: Substantive rationality
From individual to group reasons; the scope and limits of representation theorems

Year 5: Realism and anti-realism about group thought
Stance-relative and fictive thought; being realistic about group thought.


The project team.
The Principal Investigator is Robert Williams, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy.

Local team members working on the project at the University of Leeds include:

  • Thomas Brouwer
  • Daniel Elstein
  • Heather Logue

We will be recruiting two postdoctoral researchers, and two PhD research students, to start in September 2019.

This project is funded by a European Research Council consolidator award.


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