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ProtoSociology

Volume 35, 2018

The Joint Commitment Account

Ludger Jansen
Pages 167-196
DOI: 10.5840/protosociology20183510

We are no Plural Subject

In On Social Facts (1989) and subsequent works, Margaret Gilbert has suggested a plural subject account of the semantics of ‘we’ that claims that a central or standard use of ‘we’ is to refer to an existing or anticipated plural subject. This contrasts with the more general approach to treat plural pronouns as expressions referring to certain pluralities. I argue that (i) the plural subject approach cannot account for certain syntactic phenomena and that (ii) the sense of intimacy, which Gilbert cites as evidence for her plural subject account, has a different source than the existence of joint commitments constituting a respective plural subject. Moreover, (iii) there is a wide variety of phenomena in the linguistic record, which, while not constituting conclusive evidence against the plural subject account, nevertheless, are dealt with better by the plurality account. ‘We’ thus refers to pluralities, which may or may not be plural subjects. The precise analysis of ‘we’ thus reveals a multi-layered ontology of groups.

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