The Mentality of the State

N. W. Barber

in The Constitutional State

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780199585014
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595318 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Constitutional Theory

The Mentality of the State

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This chapter argues that when we talk of states possessing intentions and acting, we use these terms in an analogous sense to their primary use in the context of individuals. To talk of a state intending a thing amounts to a claim that it shares sufficient features in common with a person intending a thing to make the statement sensible; it does not amount to a claim that the state intends things in the same sense as a person intends things. The chapter begins by considering two collections of rival approaches to this issue: individualism and holism. Individualists contend that it is inappropriate to attribute mental states to groups: it confuses rather than assists our understanding of the world. Holists, in sharp contrast, contend that groups can possess some mental states in the same sense as individuals. It is argued that there is something to be learned from each of these traditions. An account of the intentions and actions of social groups based on the rules which constitute those groups is advanced; it is contended that it is plausible to talk of groups acting and intending, even if they do not exhibit these features in precisely the same sense as individuals. The chapter concludes by exploring the limits to which the attribution of mental qualities to social groups in general and states in particular can usefully be pushed.

Keywords: individualism; holism; social groups; social rules; state intentions; state actions

Chapter.  11285 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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