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collective belief

margaret gilbert


Subject Philosophy » Epistemology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631192589.1993.x


Extract

In everyday speech we often refer to the beliefs of a group of people. We say such things as ‘The union believes that a strike would succeed’, and ‘In the opinion of the government war is inevitable’. How are such claims to be interpreted? Do they imply the existence of a ‘group mind’? Many assume that a simple summative (or aggregative) analysis is correct. That is, they assume that a group believes that p if and only if all or at least most members of the group personally believe that p ( see e.g. Quinton, 1975 , pp. 9. 17). A related analysis which has been considered is this: a group believes that p if and only if all or most members believe that p and this is common knowledge in the group ( Gilbert, 1987, 1989 ; see also Bach and Harnish, 1979 , p. 270). (‘Common knowledge’ is a technical term from Lewis, 1969 .) Neither of these analyses copes well with cases such as the following. A committee has to reach a view on some matter, for instance, whether taxation should be increased. Only one individual believes that taxation should be increased, but he is feared by the others and they ‘go along’ with him, voting in favour of increasing taxes. It seems that we can now say that in the committee's view taxation should be increased. If this is so, then an analysis of group belief in terms of what most members believe cannot be correct for all cases. An alternative analysis ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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