by Luigi Amato Kunst

Domestic relationships are, generally speaking, under the category of collective intentionality. Being social does not mean to do the same things. It rather means to know and to anticipate other’s desire, belief, and action. 

To take a hint when the hint is intended-and not to take it when it is not, it means to understand the intentionality of other family members. Intentionality is what that Husserl calls “the fundamental property of consciousness“, the feature of many mental states by which they are directed at or about or of objects and states of affairs in the world.

Understanding other’s mental states are the foundation of social life. Quite often proximity is exchanged with togetherness. W.S. Maugham describes proximity as a sort of “intimacy of shipboard, which is due to propinquity rather than to any community of taste.”

To assert “We” are doing something together, it is necessary we have a form of collective intentionality, which is the power of the mind to be jointly directed at objects, matters of fact, states of affairs, goals, or values.

Collective intentionality entails a “We-Intention” instead of an “I-Intention.” To “We-intend” something means to share some common goals and to act to reach such common aims. As a consequence, an intention has to be shared. Shared intention enables the participants to act together intentionally, in a coordinated and cooperative fashion, to achieve collective goals. 

It is not uncommon that people usually do have a misinterpretation of such an institutional fact like a marriage, relationship, family member connections, friendship. Searle calls such events dependent on the human agreement, “institutional facts.”

As Searle points out, when we have to do with objects or “brute facts” such as the Mount Everest or the water or that wood, it seems that reality is quite clear and straightforward. And this is what we usually call the external reality. Nevertheless, it is quite impossible to ignore that there are portions of the real world, objective facts in the world, that are only facts by human agreement (Searle 1995). In a sense, there are things that exist only because we believe them to exist. Money, property, governments, marriages. These facts are objective, for they do not depend on our preferences, evaluations or moral attitudes.

Thus, it is not easy to see the light and invisible structure of social reality. Some people stay in a marriage individually and not jointly. What is the difference?  To do something together does not necessarily mean to do it jointly. Bratman, makes an example of two strangers walking alongside each other down a crowded Fifth Avenue without bumping into each other; it’s hard to assert they are acting jointly. But in some way, we can say they are walking together. 

Shared cooperative activity (SCA) involves appropriate behaviors. If we paint a house together we might either paint the house together without acting cooperatively or instead paint the house by doing it cooperatively. Bratman (1992) asserts that to work together cooperatively, we must have a sort kind of trio features. We must be mutual responsive, committed to the joint activity and committed to mutual support.

a) When an activity is a shared cooperative activity, each participant attempts to be responsive to the intentions and actions of the other. Each seeks to guide his behavior with an eye to the behavior of the other, knowing that the other tries to do likewise. 

b) In a shared cooperative activity, participants each have an appropriate commitment to the joint activity, and their mutual responsiveness is the pursuit of this undertaking. 

c) In SCA each participant is committed to supporting the efforts of the other to play her role in the joint activity.  If I believe that you need some help in doing something I am prepared to provide such help.

By contrast, when each act without keeping an eye on the behavior of the other we are not into a form of shared cooperation. When each does not know what the other is really doing, we cannot assert they are acting jointly. I can decide to paint a house and you can decide the same without this decision be cooperative or shared, but rather, only coincident.

The framework of marriage, relationship, family, friendship, is based on an ideal structure, which entails mutual responsiveness, commitment, and cooperation. All these institutions by human agreement, carry what Searle calls “deontic powers,” that is, rights and obligations.  Most of marriage or couple problems come from a misinterpretation of such form of institutional reality. “Stay together” quite often does not follow the rules of a Shared Cooperative Activity and it is quite common that people simply do not know the invisible structure standing beyond couple life and family relationship.

A philosophical analyst is not interested in feeling and emotions involved in a relationship or marriage. Rather he is focused on the social reality of such institutional facts. Some people predicaments come just from simple lack of knowledge, awareness, agreement of institutional reality at stake. 





Bratman Michel E, (1992) Social Cooperative Activity, The Philosophical Review, Volume 101, Issue 2  327-341.

David Woodruff Smith and Ronald McIntyre, (1982) Husserl and Intentionality: A Study of Mind, Meaning, and Language (Dordrecht and Boston: D. Reidel 

Searle J.(1983)  Intentionality, Cambridge University Press.

Searle J (1995) The construction of social reality, The free press, NY.

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