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Volume 35, 2018

The Joint Commitment Account

Alban Bouvier
Pages 55-73
DOI: 10.5840/protosociology2018354

Joint Commitment Model of Collective Beliefs
Empirical Relevance in Social Science

For almost three decades, Margaret Gilbert has introduced a new account of social facts taking “joint commitments”, not only explicit but also implicit, as the cement of sociality properly understood. Gilbert has used this original account of collective phenomena to clarify a variety of issues, both in the philosophy of rights and in the philosophy of the social sciences. This paper focuses on the latter domain; it argues that although Durkheim and Mauss are central references in her pioneering work, On Social Facts, Gilbert’s model has been underestimated in the fields of sociology and anthropology. This may come from the fact that Gilbert provides the reader with only imaginary examples. To overcome this difficulty, Bouvier investigates several historical examples in two related domains:, the political and the religious. Another reason for this relative lack of interest may come from Gilbert’s very unconventional interpretation of the Durkheimian explanation of social beliefs. Although, on the one hand, her “contractualist” (or Rousseauist) interpretation permits a sharp illumination of certain social facts, it may, on the other hand, impede the recognition of the specificity of other kinds of beliefs, which sociologists and anthropologists—including Durkheim—usually consider as collective beliefs. Bouvier, by contrast, introduces alternative models, illustrating them with similar, although ultimately distinct from previous, historical examples.

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