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Group Minds and Explanatory Simplicity

  • Mark Sprevak (a1) and David Statham (a1)


This paper explores the claim that explanation of a group's behaviour in term of individual mental states is, in principle, superior to explanation of that behaviour in terms of group mental states. We focus on the supposition that individual-level explanation is superior because it is simpler than group-level explanation. In this paper, we consider three different simplicity metrics. We argue that on none of those metrics does individual-level explanation achieve greater simplicity than a group-level alternative. We conclude that an argument against group minds should not lay weight on concerns of explanatory simplicity.


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Mark Sprevak (
David Statham (


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1 Rupert, R. D., ‘Minding One's Cognitive Systems: When Does a Group of Minds Constitute a Single Cognitive Unit’, Episteme 1 (2005), 177–88; Rupert, R. D., ‘Empirical Arguments for Group Minds: A Critical Appraisal’, Philosophy Compass 6 (2011): 630–39; Rupert, R. D., ‘Against Group Cognitive States’ in From Individual to Collective Intentionality: New Essays, edited by Chant, S., Hindriks, F., and Preyer, G. (Oxford University Press, 2014).

2 Rupert, ‘Empirical Arguments for Group Minds’, 635.

3 Lewis, D. K., Counterfactuals (Oxford: Blackwell, 1973).

4 Appeal to quantitative parsimony is far from uncontroversial as a means of selecting between rival explanations. Lewis, Counterfactuals, says, ‘I subscribe to the general view that qualitative parsimony is good in a philosophical or empirical hypothesis; but I recognise no presumption whatever in favour of quantitative parsimony’ (87). Alex Oliver argues that, despite our undeniable bias towards explanations with quantitative parsimony, we should not trust this as a guide to the truth (The Metaphysics of Properties’, Mind 105 (1996), 180 ).

5 Nolan, D., ‘Quantitive Parsimony’, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 48 (1997), 329343 .

6 Nolan, ‘Quantitative Parsimony’, 340.

7 Baker, A., ‘Simplicity’ in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Zalta, E. N., Fall 2013 ,

8 Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. J., ‘The Extended Mind’, Analysis 58 (1998), 719

9 Clark and Chalmers, ‘The Extended Mind’, 13.

10 The authors are listed here in alphabetical order; both authors have contributed equally to this work. We would like to thank Anthony O'Hear for inviting us to present this paper at the Royal Institute of Philosophy, and the audience for their useful questions and suggestions. We would like to thank Robert Rupert for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

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Group Minds and Explanatory Simplicity

  • Mark Sprevak (a1) and David Statham (a1)


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