Plural Subjects – The Social Ontology of Us


In this meeting, I will present the outlines of my next book project. I will introduce the main conceptual tools used and arguments made in the draft.


9 thoughts on “Plural Subjects – The Social Ontology of Us

  1. Satne, Glenda says:

    Hi Bernhard, Great talk, I am looking forward to the book! I am sorry I could not make it to the discussion last Monday. The talk/book is very inspiring and as a result I have a number of questions that I would probably only be able to solve when I read the book. My questions mainly turn around the third part of the book, i.e. exactly how the argument for the “widest we” works. But here is a way to connect these questions to another topic in the previous parts of the book. I am a bit suspicious of the distinction between us “as social objects”, and us “as subjects”. I agree with you that some views treat subjects (plural or not) as objects, and that is a mistake. Yet, when it comes to clarifying this confusion, I am not sure much of the idea of me/us as an object survives. One way of thinking about this is thinking about our history, we might say that we are historical animals and as such are “made to be what we are”, yet this is not in tension with the idea of being subjects of that history. It seems to me that by drawing on this distinction too much we lose the idea of subjects as ways of being, and the notion of a subject becomes more abstract, a precondition (transcendental?) for a way of being rather than a way of being? I think the distinction between authenticity and inauthenticity, the idea of taking responsibility for our attitudes and actions as agents or authors, or treating our choices as coming from outside or being imposed on us, can survive while refusing to line it up to the idea of “us as objects” and “us as subjects”, which seems to introduce a tension between being a subject and being an animal/ having a particular history/ social identity, etc.

  2. Strasser, Anna says:

    Hi Bernhard – I do understand that your conception of a we-subject is a real plural thing (not an addition of several entities / no collective thing) / but I still wonder whether we can talk of different modes of existence at the same time? But maybe this is a misleading question? (for example, we two are a we subject having an conversation and at the same time I am as an individual subject which could have contradictory properties …..)

  3. Salice, Alessandro says:

    Hi Bernhard, can you please share the REF of the article you mentioned in the Q&A on role identification? Thanks!

    1. Schmid, Hans Bernhard says:

      Thanks, Ale. The paper is “Authentic Role Play”, and it is here:

  4. Massin, Olivier says:

    Hi Bernhard, thanks for this very stimulating talk! looking forward the discussion tomorrow…and the book soon after.

    (i) “As objects we are made by others, as objects we make ourselves”. I’m not sure how to understand the “as”. Are there two entities in me, an object which is determined by others, and a subject which is self-determined? Am I the bundle of these two? So that I’m partly determined by others, partly self-determined ? What happens if the subject determine himself to PHI, while the object is determined by others to non-PHI? do they split ?

    (ii) “the subject is not an object, but an adverbial feature of intentional attitudes” (17’50). Earlier on, you said you reject the mode account of collective intentionality and favour a plural subject account. Isn’t there a tension here ? At first sight, if the subject is an adverbial modification of the attitudes, the subject looks pretty much like a mode.

    (iii) your idea about reflective mistake sound very promising. Why maintain that we a pre-reflectively/implicitly aware of who we are, instead of not aware at all ? Why not drop all cartesian first person privilege instead of keeping it at that tacit level ?

    1. Schmid, Hans Bernhard says:

      Thanks, Olivier! Just a quick reply:

      (i) The “as” can perhaps be avoided, if it bothers you. I am a subject, and I am an object. The “am” is very different in both cases. The subject I am is self-identified, self-validated, self-committed and self-authorized. The (social) object I am is identified, validated, committed and authorized by others.
      Neither the subject nor the object is something “in” me (contrary to what you suggest).

      (ii) Intentional modes are whatever distinguishes, say, a case of believing from a case of fearing, or desiring. The I/We-distinction does not belong on the list of modes, but cuts across the modes. “I believe” and “We believe” are not different intentional modes. They are of the same intentional mode. But they have a different intentional subject (see my “What Kind of Mode is the We-Mode?”).

      (iii) Because there is something right about it after all (self-identification, self-validation, self-commitment and self-authorization).

    2. Roth, Abe says:

      Following up on Olivier’s first question and your reply, I was wondering whether the self-identification, self-commitment, etc. of the subject I must in some way engage with the authorization/commitment/validation others impose on the self as object? Can the self as subject commit to X-ing while the self as object is not so authorized by others? Is there a rational tension in this in the way that there is a tension when I intend to X and intend something incompatible with X-ing?

      I’m sorry I missed your discussion, Berhard; it was 3AM my time!

      Hope all is well.


    3. Petersson, Björn says:

      I am sorry that I missed your discussion, Bernhard. I had a thought, mostly terminological, in line with Olivier’s second question. I think that most proponents of we-mode theories would admit that the term “mode” here must be used in a different sense than the conventional, and that the we-mode/I-mode distinction cuts across the modes, understood in the conventional sense. So, the label “we-mode” may be unfortunate – perhaps “we-perspective” would have been better. On the other hand, the phrase “plural subject” may also mislead readers unless one stresses, as you do, that this refers to the intentional subject, which is “an adverbial feature of intentional attitudes” and not a plural subject in e.g. Gilbert’s sense. My thought was simply that once these ambiguities are eliminated, the plural subject account may be difficult to distinguish from (a plausible version of) the mode account.

    4. Schmid, Hans Bernhard says:

      Many thanks indeed for your points, Abe and Björn!
      Abe: the thought is that our attitudes commit us simply in virtue of our having them (the having of them is their occurring to us/our being consciously aware of them (/etc.) under suitable circumstances), in the singular or in the plural. Other people’s attitudes (normative expectations etc.) do not commit me in other ways than by way of us, together, sharing that attitude (in virtue of their occurring to us, under suitable circumstances, in plural pre-reflective self-awareness). So basically, I agree with what I take to be the existentialist insight that it is a mistake to take oneself to be committed qua object of another person’s attitudes. But if we’re (pre-reflectively) aware of what we want/the way we want to go about it, we’re not related by way of mutual objectification, but as co-subjects.
      Björn: I agree (I think I put it in almost the way you suggest in the “What kind of mode is the we-mode”-paper). However, I disagree that this makes no difference. Talk of we-belief, we-intention etc. leaves open the position of the intentional subject. Demonstrably, people have argued from the beginning (with Sellars) that an individual can have a we-intention: I we-intend to phi, you we-intend to phi, etc. The reasons for this are quite plain, and I think we’ve no disagreement there. But the fact remains that is misleading. The correct analysis is “we (together) intend to phi”. I suggest that we-moders simply should accept that they’re not talking mode, but rather subject.

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