We often refer to the beliefs of groups. We might say that we think it’s a lovely day out, or that Americans believe democracy to be the best form of government. But what sorts of phenomena are being referred to in this way of speaking? In the context of belief, should words such as Americans and we be viewed as shorthand for summing up the individually held beliefs of a group’s members? Or, rather, do such words sometimes correctly refer to a group engaged, as a unified entity, in the collective activity of believing? In other terms, are the facts about the beliefs of a group independent of the facts about the beliefs of that group’s members? If so, then it’s possible for a group to believe p, while the individuals who constitute that group each believes not-p. Call this sort of belief, in which a group literally has belief of its own, collective belief. When I use that term, I mean it specifically in that sense, while, for clarity’s sake, I use group belief as a philosophically neutral term.
On my view, groups are not capable of collective belief. This distinguishes belief from other sorts of activities. When Mary and Larry make the bed, for example, they each contribute to the collective activity of bed-making, though neither could be rightly said to have individually made the bed. There are many such collective activities. Mary and Larry might hug, cook dinner, or sing a major third. In the latter case, Mary sings a C and Larry sings an E, but neither Mary nor Larry sings a major third. Nevertheless, Mary and Larry sing a major third. Continue Reading