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Who are we? Self-identity, Social Cognition, and Collective Intentionality

Project description

A new, systematic theory for the concept of ‘we’

Concepts of collective intentionality appear in the philosophy of mind, social sciences, phenomenology, psychology, and even cognitive neuroscience. Related to subjects of social cognition and the self-identity, it can be discussed from different perspectives, like how groups are formed, or what it means to feel, act, and think as ‘we’. However, some very foundational issues of the relation of ‘we’ to ‘self’ and social cognition remain unresolved. The EU-funded WE project will seek to develop a whole systematic theory of ‘we’ from the multilevel perspective and combine it with a historical scholarship. WE will challenge old boundaries between philosophy and social sciences, enabling new academic approaches toward current urgent societal problems.


What does it mean to feel, think, and act as part of a we? During the last few decades, the topic of collective intentionality or we-intentionality has been much debated. However, the following foundational issues continue to remain underexplored and unresolved:

• How is the we related to the self?

• What does the fact that one can adopt a we-perspective tell us about the fluid character of selfhood?

• What type of social cognition is required in order to identify with and share a perspective with others?

• What kinds of interpersonal relations are at play in different we-formations?

• What is the relation between a transient we and a persisting we, and between a we that connects particular individuals who are known to each other, and a we that involves identification with a more anonymous and impersonal group?

The working hypothesis of WE is that a systematic account of the we must be embedded in a more comprehensive investigation of selfhood and social cognition. This hypothesis draws inspiration from and will engage with seminal contributions by figures in classical phenomenology.

The project will combine systematic theorizing with historical scholarship, and will challenge existing disciplinary boundaries by interweaving work on self-identity, social cognition, and collective intentionality. It will break new theoretical ground by developing a systematically convincing, phenomenologically valid, and empirically relevant account of the complex interrelation between the we, the you, and the I. In doing so, it will offer a clarification of foundational issues in the humanities and social sciences, and facilitate a much-needed cross fertilization between philosophy and theoretical considerations in the social sciences.

Given the recent upsurge of ethno-nationalism and identity thinking, a renewed critical reflection on the ontological and epistemological status of the we is of urgent societal significance.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 495 406,00
1165 Kobenhavn

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Danmark Hovedstaden Byen København
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 495 406,25

Beneficiaries (1)