Thinking the genesis of a group behaviour and of group thoughts. Sartre’s alternative framework

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One of the still controversial issue, in the current social ontology debate, is whether the “we” is a primitive and unconditioned phenomenon, (Schmidt 2005, 2009, 2014; Searle 1995) or whether it arises out of a dyadic I-you relationship. (Zahavi 2016; Tomasello 2014).

In this talk, I defend a thesis that mainly sides with this latter view, but which also add some complexities. Indeed, I shall not choose dyadic forms of “we”, as my point of departure, but I shall focus on far more complex, polycentric and mediated configurations of the “we”, which go beyond the here and now of a concrete face-to-face interaction and involve the plural positions of ‘you’ and ‘they’.

My basic thesis is that in order to account for the genesis of these far more complex configurations of the “we”, one need to shift the theoretical focus from the “You” to the “Third”, that is to say, from dyadic relationship between I and You, self and other to ternary relations (constellations) of “mediated reciprocity” involving the figure and the functions of a “third party”, that is a third member who behaves on the behalf of a larger community (of plural you).

This hypothesis draws inspiration from Sartre’s theory of practical ensembles, whose analyses of the genesis of the “fused group” are focused on the key importance of the “third party”.

The essential point to be retained, in this context is that the “third party” is to be understood — as a third agent or as an internal observer — rather than as an external enemy or as a realm of being (e.g., a shared object or a common project). The third party is ‘another’ whose functions are different from the ‘first other’, or the alter ego.

To quickly outline the structure of the my talk: In the first section, I will recall some elements of the dyadic model, by considering Dan Zahavi’s proposal in some detail. In the second section, I will go back to Sartre’s account and attempt to reconstruct his arguments for shifting the theoretical focus from dyadic relation of reciprocity, to ternary relations of “mediated reciprocity” involving a “third party”. In a final move, I will explore the epistemological and heuristic potential of this alternative framework for contemporary debates on the genesis of the “we”.

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