Talk for CIVIII

I shall be giving a talk @ the 8th Conference on Collective Intentionality which is taking place @ the University of Manchester on the 28th – 31st August 2012.

I am also tweeting conference information @CIconfVIII and on my personal twitter @NotEvilJoe using the hastag #CIVIII

My planed talk is on whether being in an ongoing committed romantic relationship can best be understood in terms of being a plural subject (a la Margaret Gilbert). Full title and extended abstract:

Title: Love’s Bond, Plural Subjects & the Normative Authority of Plural Reasons & Ends

Extended Abstract:

Philosopher’s such as Robert Solomon, Robert Nozick and Mark Fisher have proposed that people who are in relationships of romantic love becoming bound together, united, in some real sense, as one.

Andrea Westlund believes that this view of love (the ‘Union‘ view) is essentially correct, however she worries that it might suffer from being unable to allow a central place for reciprocity between distinct individuals. The possibility of such reciprocity is, as she sees it, a central feature of non-pathological love.

Rather than give up on the Union view, Westlund proposes an account of the nature of the union that she believes does not face this problem. Her account is broadly along the same lines as Margaret Gilbert’s Plural Subject Theory; she sees love’s bond as being the forming of a particular kind of plural subject; one that is engaged in an ongoing process of forging a shared practical perspective – a project of coming to have shared reasons and shared ends.

Westlund’s attempt to apply plural subject theory to the nature of love is, I shall argue, compelling. However I will put forward the case that she rejects too hastily a central element of Gilbert’s account regarding the normative authority of plural reasons and ends.

For Gilbert the creation of plural reasons and ends involves the individuals jointly committing to pool their wills into a plural will. Having done so they are thus caught up in this plural will and not in a position to unilaterally reject its demands by a simple personal change of mind or declaration. The normative authority of plural reasons and ends thus arises directly from the nature of the joint commitment required for the construction of a plural subject – the plural will, formed collectively, can only be changed or rescinded collectively.

On Westlund’s picture, in contrast, the creation of plural reasons and ends involves an ongoing ‘dance of union, separation and reunion’, that is, it involves individuals being engaged in an ‘evolving framework’ of plural stances to which they must continuously reaffirm. She thus requires a further commitment to a ‘robust form of mutual accountability’ in order to account for the normative authority of those plural reasons and ends.

On the one hand Westlund’s rejection of Gilbert’s account of the source of normative authority of plural attitudes appears to be required to explain the flexibility that allows for a central place for reciprocity in loving relationships and thus to avoid the apparent problems of the Fusion or Self-constitution views. On the other hand, however, I will argue that such a rejection loses an important element of Gilbert’s account, that is, its ability to explain the normative authority of plural subject attitudes as arising directly from the nature of joint commitment. This thus robs Gilbert’s account of that which makes it distinctly collectivist.

I will argue that it is right to think that Gilbert’s account must be modified to be able to explain the nature of loves bond, but that Westlund is wrong to think that we must thus retreat to invoking an additional individual commitment. Rather, I will suggest that we can still see the normative authority of plural reasons and ends as arising directly from the nature of the plural subjectivity but that Westlund’s need for an more flexible framework can be accommodated by replacing Gilbert’s notion of all-or-nothing pooling of wills with an account that sees individuals as coming to have their wills jointly entangled in a way that is open to degrees (i.e. that said wills can be more or less entangled).

I will conclude that the kind of modifications that the case of love’s bond implies for Gilbert’s Plural Subject Account actually strengthen said account’s applicability to other forms of plural subject-hood and are better able to account for the phenomenology of dissenting from such collectives.

Key texts:

  • Gilbert, M. (1992), On Social facts, Princeton University Press
  • Gilbert, M. (1996), “Walking Together: A Paradigmatic Social Phenomenon”, in her Living Togeather: Rationality, Sociality & Obligation, Roman & Littlefeild, p.177 – 194
  • Westlund, A. C. (2009) “Deciding Together,” Philosophers’ Imprint, 9:10,
  •  Westlund, A. C. (2008), ‘The Reunion of Marriage’, The Monist, vol. 91, nos 3 & 4, p. 558-577

About Joseph Kisolo

Philosopher teaching Ethics & Epistemology @ NottsUni and interested in in Social Ontology. Outside academia interested in climbing, design, geekery and radical social justice.
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