Friday, May 6, 2011


Recently I've been taken with the notion of "we"-intentionality. I'm not sure if it's the greatest solution just yet, but it's a cool concept that helps explain at least one thing -- why people say "we" when they address an audience.

First, intentionality. Intentionality is that feature of our minds that "refers", or has aboutness. To explain this: Suppose your imagine a picture of your car. The "aboutness", or that which refers your thought to your car is the intentionality of that thought. This would be an example of "I"-intentionality -- you're talking about yourself and yourself only in thinking about your car. "We"-intentionality would be something like "We believe that vegetables are good for you". The "we" would mean that you and others that you are a part of believe. That which allows you all to believe together is "we"-intentionality. It's a little weird to think in these terms, at first, because we're used to thinking of thoughts as "private". But think about a close friend or lover you've had. Usually people can tell if something is wrong with them, or predict what they're going to say next if the friends know each other enough. I know that I've had this experience. I would say that this is an instance of "we"-intentionality: It's actually not too uncommon to know what peers in an organization, or even other people within a given community that only passingly know each other think and feel. Surely we can be mistaken, and corrected, but we can also be correct, so I'd say that this is at least a proof of concept of "we"-intentionality.

What does this explain? Well, I've noticed that in conversation when sharing beliefs or explaining concepts to a group of people, the pronoun "we" is often used. A person may jeer if they disagree, "Are you two people?" -- but the language can also float by without notice. This would be an instance of correctly inferring that "we"-intentionality applies in that situation. In either instance, however, "we"-intentionality explains a feature of communication: it is an act of agreeing with one another, or checking to see if we agree with each other (feel free to interject, here ;) ). By saying "We think..." it brings attention to the fact that agreement is needed in this instance for an argument to continue, or it checks to see if a group is indeed still in line with one another. No "royal perspective" is no longer necessary to explain why people say "we" when speaking to others -- we have "we"-intentionality.