Thinking about theory sitting around the kitchen table

kttlogo4Does the way we think about, and the way we do, philosophy change depending on the setting in which we do it? This is a question I have been thinking about a lot recently as I have been spending more time looking after my two young kids than I have in anything vaguely resembling an ivory tower.

In this vein, I have recently become involved in forming a loose collective with some other Manchester-based artists, philosophers, academics and activists with in similar interest in doing theory ‘in the wild’. We believe that engagement with theoretical ideas should not be confined either to the classroom or to the committee rooms of political parties and this has lead us to set up Kitchen Table Theory – a projected series of collaborative events designed to encourage debate and discussion about critical and cultural issues in a non-academic environment.

The inaugural event will take place tomorrow (July 12th 2014) at Levenshulme Market where members of the public will be encouraged to participate in a dynamic conversation about community and community space.

Each of us have proposed a quote that relates to the the question and I put forward the following, below which are my notes explaining what I see the quote to mean.

“… in order to proceed with proper confidence to do something together, people must already justifiably see themselves as ‘us’ or ‘we’.”
Margaret Gilbert, On Social Facts, 1992


In order for us to understand ourselves as together forming a community we must understand ourselves as socially united in some sense. Margaret Gilbert argues that our conceiving of ourselves as a we – or as she puts it a ‘plural subject’ – is the central component of this unity.

Imagine a pair on a long walk, as time drags on one of them becomes bored and announces to the other that they intend to abandon the endeavour, “You can’t give up”, the other reacts, “We said we would walk to the top!” Think of a couple buying sofa, “I know you don’t like red”, one says to the other after many hours of pontificating, “… but I think it would really work for us.” Take the desolate football fan, crying over a pint of beer, “We could have done it”, he says “we could have gone all the way”. Recoil from the words of the suburban nationalist, “I don’t have anything against the Asians” she says, “its just that they don’t share our values”.

There seems to be something more to these evocations of collective agency than a mere sum of the standpoints of the individuals involved, and yet we might want to avoid conjuring up a mysterious collective organism or spirit. Gilbert argues that this collective agency is not that of a separate entity but rather that it is comprised of a plurality of people intentionally committed to be a we. For Gilbert, this social unity requires the sharing, or we might say the pooling, of the individuals’ agency. For this sharing of agency to occur, Gilbert believes that the relevant individuals must together, in conditions of common knowledge, make joint commitments to hold certain attitudes or do certain things as a we.

On Gilbert’s account, for us to jointly occupy a space we must together be engaging in the activity of filling it, but also, we must have jointly committed, each in conditions of common knowledge, to be a plural subject that collectively intends to fill said space. For Gilbert then, such occupation requires more than merely cooperating in having mutually dependent other-directed intentions (I intend to stand next to you, you intend to stand next to me); rather, it requires cooperating in sharing one single collective intention (we intend to take the square).



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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