What is the difference between language that describes the world and language that evaluates it? It has been suggested that an essential, distinguishing feature of evaluative language is its potential to guide actions by providing us with reasons to act. Calling an action “cruel” not only evaluates it negatively, its cruelty also provides us with a reason to refrain from it. Descriptive language, in and by itself, is relatively inert in this respect. In this paper, we examine whether this undisputed assumption is empirically adequate. We present three preregistered studies that demonstrate that evaluative language provides reasons for action when an agent contemplates how she should act, and also in conversational contexts. However, we also demonstrate that the speaker can easily deny the intention to provide such reasons to act.

Keywords: thick and thin concepts; evaluative language; action-guidingness; motivation; reasons for action

In dit commentaar reageer ik op het paper van Marc Slors in het Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte.

Marc Slors laat zien dat het gemak waarmee wij dagelijks met anderen interageren enkel mogelijk is wanneer allerlei conventies op hun plek zijn. Hij wijst op het belang van deze conventies voor onze onderlinge coördinatie en verdiept zijn analyse via de cognitieve functies die conventies vooronderstellen en de wijze waarop affordances (handelingsmogelijkheden) cognitief functioneren ondersteunen.
In dit korte commentaar wil ik twee aspecten uit Slors’ betoog voor het voetlicht brengen. Ten eerste zal ik het kort hebben over verschillende manieren om over groepen te praten, en over hoe zowel hedendaagse filosofen die over collectieve intenties denken alsook Tomasello en zijn navolgers in dichotomieën vervallen: ze onderscheiden tussen sociale groepen enerzijds en ‘aggregaten’ anderzijds, maar zien daarmee een belangrijke middencategorie over het hoofd. Ik ondersteun en verdiep hier de kritiek van Slors op het werk van Tomasello. Hoewel Slors met zijn introductie van conventies een belangrijke stap zet om die middencategorie te kunnen denken, laat ik zien dat we nog verder moeten gaan. Dit werk ik vervolgens uit aan de hand van het onderscheid tussen impliciete en expliciete conventies. Hoewel Slors al voorzichtig is in het maken van dit onderscheid, reik ik, en dit is mijn tweede punt, aanvullende argumenten aan om nog voorzichtiger te zijn: we moeten dit onderscheid absoluut niet dichotoom begrijpen. Ter afsluiting koppel ik beide punten terug naar de karakterisering van de mens als groupish.

Abstract Dichotomous thinking about mental phenomena is abundant in philosophy. One particularly tenacious dichotomy is between “automatic” and “controlled” processes. In this characterization automatic and unintelligent go hand in hand, as do non-automatic and intelligent. Accounts of skillful action have problematized this dichotomous conceptualization and moved towards a more nuanced understanding of human agency. This binary thinking is, however, still abundant in the philosophy of joint action. Habits and skills allow us agentic ways of guiding complex action routines that would otherwise overwhelm our reflective capacities. In this paper, I look at how theories of skill, habit, and know-how in individual action can inform a non-dichotomous account of joint action. I argue that a fuller understanding of joint agency has to understand not only group know-how, but also the role of attention and the highly integrated types of control that allow agents to act together.

Abstract We identify a social phenomenon in which large numbers of people seem to work towards a shared goal without explicitly trying to do so. We argue that this phenomenon – implicit coordination – is best understood as a form of joint agency differing from the forms most commonly discussed in the literature in the same way that individual actions driven by “explicit” intentions (those available for reflection and report) differ from individual actions driven by “implicit” intentions (those not thus available). More precisely, implicit coordination is both analogous to wholly implicit individual intentions, and constituted by the partly implicit intentions of participants. We discuss the significance of this category for action theory, social ontology, and social criticism.

Abstract It has been claimed that a sense of us is presupposed for shared intentions to be possible. Searle introduced this notion together with the notion of the sense of the other. in joint action. It argues that the sense of the other is a necessary condition for a sense of us. Whereas this article distinguishes between the “sense of the other” and the “sense of us” and elaborates on their role the sense of the other is immediate and automatic, the sense of us can (but need not) arise between people and can (a) develop over time, (b) depend on the situation, and (c) involves several sufficient but not necessary processes. The article relies on research on core knowledge to better understand the sense of the other. It elaborates the sense of us using insights from cognitive science and social psychology. The article shows that the sense of the other and the sense of us can contribute to our understanding of the perception of possibilities for joint action and how individuals can come to experience actions and intentions as shared, even if the participants lack common knowledge. This leads to the conclusion that people are ordinarily socially oriented rather than individually.

Abstract In the debate about the nature of social cognition we see a shift towards theories that explain social understanding through interaction. This paper discusses autopoietic enactivism and the we-mode approach in the light of such developments. We argue that a problem seems to arise for these theories: an interactionist account of social cognition makes the capacity of shared intentionality a presupposition of social understanding, while the capacity of engaging in scenes of shared intentionality in turn presupposes exactly the kind of social understanding that it is intended to explain. The social capacity in question that is presupposed by these accounts is then analyzed in the second section via a discussion and further development of Searle’s ‘sense of us’ and ‘sense of the other’ as a precondition for social cognition and joint action. After a critical discussion of Schmid’s recent proposal to analyze this in terms of plural pre-reflective selfawareness, we develop an alternative account. Starting from the idea that infants distinguish in perception between physical objects and other agents we distinguish between affordances and social affordances and cash out the notion of a social affordance in terms of “interaction-oriented representations”, parallel to the analysis of object affordances in terms of “action-oriented representations”. By characterizing their respective features we demonstrate how this approach can solve the problem formulated in the first part.

Abstract Dieser Beitrag nimmt als Ausganspunkt die gegenwärtige kontroverse Debatte um den adäquaten Erklärungsansatz in der Kognitionswissenschaft, und zwar zwischen Enaktivisten einerseits und Repräsentationalisten andererseits. Beispielhaft wurde aufgezeigt, dass in Bezug auf die soziale Kognition der enaktivistische Ansatz eine Voraussetzung machen muss, die er mit seinen eigenen Mitteln nicht einzufangen in der Lage ist. Denn der Versuch, das Verstehen des Anderen durch gemeinsame Sinnstiftung der Akteure innerhalb ihrer sozialen Interaktion zu erklären, gerät in einen Zirkel, da nicht erklärt wird, wie die Kopplung und damit der Prozess der sozialen Interaktion allererst zustande kommen kann. Als Lösung dieses Problems wird eine repräsentationalistische Analyse der vorausgesetzten Fähigkeit, andere als potentielle Kooperationspartner anzusehen, entwickelt, und zwar mit den Mitteln von Millikans Teleosemantik. Diese Theorie aus dem Kontext der Debatte um die Naturalisierung mentaler Repräsentationen liefert mit den PP Repräsentationen den adäquaten Begriff, um sowohl verkörperte, handlungsorientierte Repräsentationen zur Analyse von Affordanzen, als auch verkörperte interaktionsorientierte Repräsentationen zur Analyse sozialer Affordanzen zu entwickeln. Dies erlaubt die Annahme einer zentralen Funktion für die soziale Wahrnehmung, die den blinden Fleck des enaktivistischen Ansatzes ausfüllen kann. Zugleich demonstriert diese Analyse der sozialen Wahrnehmung die explanatorische Überlegenheit (minimal) repräsentationalistischer Erklärungen gegenüber rein enaktivistischen Alternativen.


Abstract In everyday contexts we do numerous things together. Philosophers of collective intentionality have wondered how we can distinguish parallel cases from cases where we act together. Often their theories argue in favor of one characteristic, feature, or function, that differentiates the two. This feature then distinguishes parallel actions from joint action. The approach in this book is different.
Three claims are developed: (1) There are several functions that help human agents coordinate and act together. (2) This entails that joint action should be understood through these different, interrelated, types of coordination. (3) A multidimensional conceptual space, with three levels of control and coordination, will allow us to connect these different forms of coordination and their interdependencies. This allows us to understand the jointness of an action in a more differentiated and encompassing way.
This approach has ramifications for several distinctions that are typically understood to be binary, including those between action and mere bodily movement, joint action and parallel action, and action together and not together.

Book Chapters

In Tuomela on Sociality (Philosophers in Depth volume), edited by Rachael Melin and Miguel Garcia for Palgrave Macmillan.

Social practices are a key concept in Raimo Tuomela’s work on sociality, they help us understand many aspects of sociality, including customs, traditions, and institutions. The key elements in his analysis of social practices are we-attitudes and pattern-governed behaviors. I am sympathetic to Tuomela’s approach to sociality to the extent that it recognizes and spells out many sufficient and necessary conditions for different types of social activity that together make up sociality. I agree with him that the complexity and multiplicity of human agency, both when acting individually as well as when acting collectively or cooperatively, indeed calls for such an analysis with multiple sufficiency conditions. I especially appreciate his acknowledgement of the role of habits, customs, and the like for sociality. His three most recent books, The Philosophy of Social Practices (2002), The Philosophy of Sociality: The Shared Point of View (2007), and Social Ontology; Collective Intentionality and Group Agents (2013) all pay attention to this aspect of human being. In this paper, I will zoom in on this aspect of Tuomela’s work and look at how he integrates habits, customs, and skills. In Tuomela’s words, I will zoom in on pattern-governed behaviors and social practices, focusing on chapter three and four from The Philosophy of Social Practices and chapter eight from Social Ontology.

What I want to focus on is the notion of habit that Tuomela uses throughout his work. On the one hand he gives it an important role and mentions customs often, as the “collective counterpart of habits” (Tuomela 2002, p. 121). At the same time, the analysis of habits and customs left me wanting. I will argue that they are too strongly dependent on and are integrated in a context in which we-attitudes are the key explanatory element.

Edited Volume

From the cover:
This book is a creative exercise in democratic writing, with marginalia, crowd sourcing and some agonistic, collective editorializing, all open to view. The aim is to offer readers an experience of something like democratic reading. An exciting experiment that will invigorate democratic theory and perhaps even democratic practices, too.
Bonnie Honig, Brown University.
[…] The authors not only set out some of democracy’s major future challenges, but – by making their internal dialogue and disagreement visible for the readers – they also show and enact democracy’s timeless essence, as a political community of dissenting voices. […]
Luuk van Middelaar, political theorist and historian.


Corona-Maßnahmen Die Eindämmung des Coronavirus braucht die Kooperation aller. Sich dafür auf Appelle zur freiwilligen Selbstisolation zu verlassen, ist grob fahrlässig.

Coronabier-Picknick im Park, unnötige und disruptive Hamsterkäufe, last minute Besuche auf Einkaufsstraßen. Alles keine guten Ideen in Zeiten der Corona-Pandemie. Die Bundeskanzlerin hat daher in ihrer Fernsehansprache an die Vernunft der Bürger*innen appelliert, diese Dinge sein zu lassen.

Dieser Appell ist berechtigt und hilfreich. Ob er ausreicht, ist aber fraglich. Denn das Problem ist nicht nur, dass Menschen Risiken schlecht einschätzen können und die Situation noch nicht ernst genug nehmen. Ein anderer Effekt ist auch im Spiel: Wir befinden uns in einem Gefangenendilemma.


In de boekenreeks ‘Wetenschappelijke doorbraken de klas in!’ laten we zien hoe je wetenschap in het basisonderwijs brengt via onderzoekend leren. Het thema Wonderkind David Gorleaus wordt in hoofdstuk 5 behandeld in het vierde boek uit de reeks.

Het wonderkind David Gorleaus gaat over de invloed van leeftijd, ervaring en context op het denken. David Gorleaus heeft indrukwekkende manuscripten geschreven, die een grote invloed hadden op de ontwikkeling van filosofie en wetenschap in Nederland. Denken jonge mensen anders dan volwassenen? Hoe komt het dat sommige mensen heel anders denken dan andere?

In de boekenreeks ‘Wetenschappelijke doorbraken de klas in!’ laten we zien hoe je wetenschap in het basisonderwijs brengt via onderzoekend leren. Het thema Gevaarlijke ideeën wordt in hoofdstuk 4 behandeld in het derde boek uit de reeks.
Het hoofdstuk gaat over Gevaarlijke ideeën: Het verband tussen ideeën en veranderende regels in de maatschappij.

Book Review

The work under consideration addresses a fundamental problem in cognitive neuroscience and social science. Although both aim to explain and understand human action, their explanatory tools are so divergent that our theories are riddled with conceptual gaps. Both fields are moreover permeated by old-fashioned action theory and folk psychology, which explain and understand action in terms of mind-reading and attributing beliefs, desires, and intentions to others. While these theories may work pragmatically in navigating our social world, they are increasingly questioned as a basis for our theorizing. These and other problems within both disciplines have long held back a much-needed multidisciplinary approach to human action from gaining traction. Turner’s book aims to set it free.

Work in Progress

Many of the things we do, together or alone, we do repeatedly. Most of the things we care about and value are things we adhere to over time. In such cases it would be nonsensical to deliberate or make decisions about what to do or care for over and over again. To capture such transtemporal ways of weighing values and action possibilities, Michael Bratman has introduced the notion of policies. Policies can be about how to do things, how to typically do things with room for exceptions, and how to give weight to certain considerations in further decisions to be made. Policies allow agents and groups of agents to be diachronically coherent without constant deliberation. Not only would it potentially be nonsensical to reconsider what to do when, for example, a similar situation occurs time and again, but it is also argued that it is unrealistic (see e.g., Bratman, Simon). We do not have the cognitive capacities, nor the time, to do so. In that sense, policies are a way to think about bounded rationality.
In this paper, I argue that the way Bratman draws the connections between intentions, policies, and heuristics is problematic. Bounded rationality and heuristics should be understood differently and I will indicate how. My reconceptualized notion of heuristics within a framework of planning agency changes our relation to diachronic coherence. This will be shown in part one of the paper. In the second part of the paper, I argue that a reframing of the connection between intentions, policies, and heuristics forces us to reconceptualize shared policies and how shared policies are distinct from shared social practices. The sharp distinction between shared policies and shared social practices cannot be upheld. We should understand shared policies and shared social practices as opposites on the same spectrum, rather than binary. On Bratman’s understanding, shared policies offer sufficient conditions for shared agency, shared social practices do not. By changing the dichotomy into a continuum, as I propose, it will become more difficult to tell in which cases we have ground to talk about shared agency. I believe, however, that this picture better reflects reality and in that sense is a desirable result.

In this paper I follow Bratman by assuming that human agents are planning agents and use their planning capacities to act together. At the same time, I question the implications that he has taken to be a consequence of his position that human agents are planning agents. The critique is based on an analysis of the constructivism and creature construction that Bratman uses to arrive at his theory. Bratman claims that his theory is parsimonious in comparison to other theories of shared agency. I argue that certain steps in the comparison of the leanness between his and other proposals are missing, making the argument incomplete at best. I connect this issue with a second issue that is connected to Bratman’s proposal of shared agency: it has been argued to be cognitively over-demanding. Using earlier critiques by Butterfill, Pacherie, Tollefsen, and others, I argue that the over-demandingness of his theory extends beyond his account of shared agency and goes all the way down to his account of human agents as planning agents. Two conclusions follow from this analysis. Firstly, the claim of parsimony becomes problematic. Secondly, we should consider multiple forms of purposive agency and spell out how human agents can and do act together based on these purposive capacities.

In this project with Pascale Willemsen, we investigate the use of thick concepts in ordinary language. More specifically, we investigate whether statements containing thick terms provide reasons for action and motivate speakers and addressees of a moral statement to change their behaviour or stick to it.

According to authors such as Bernard Williams or Simon Kirchin, thick concepts are practical concepts which are both world-guided and action-guiding. They are world-guided in the sense that for an action to count as cruel, certain objective features need to be given, such as inflicting unnecessary pain or pleasure from the suffering of others. They are action-guiding in these sense that by calling an action cruel, we provide a reason not to perform this action.

While this is a quite plausible and seldomly disputed assumption, no empirical evidence has been offered in its support. The first aim of this project is, thus, to investigate whether laypeople understand statements containing thick terms as motivating, reason-giving, and morally evaluative.

In pursuing this first goal, we also collect data on an even more fundamental, yet never empirically tested assumption, namely that thin concepts are action-guiding. Many philosophers believe that thick concepts gain their action-guiding potential from the evaluation they share with thin concepts.

The experimental design we developed helps us test this hypothesis as well. A second aim of this project is, to see whether there is a difference between thick concepts and thin concepts to the extent to which they are action-guiding. Assuming that philosophers are correct in claiming that both thin and thick concepts are action-guiding, it is still an open and never empirically investigated question whether thin or thick concepts are more-action-guiding. Such evidence would yet go a long way in understanding evaluative language and their role in moral psychology.

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