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Sharing and Ascribing Goals


  • I am grateful to Gergő Csibra and Gyury Gergely for detailed email conversations on the topic of this paper and also to Gyury for his detailed comments on an earlier version. Thanks to Deirdre Wilson for her invaluable help and support. Early versions of the paper were presented at NYU, l’Université Libre in Brussels, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam, the University of Bonn, the University of Milan and the twenty-ninth European Workshop on Cognitive Neuropsychology in Bressanone. I am grateful to the audiences there for their reactions, and to Renée Baillargeon, Harold Bekkering, Frédérique de Vignemont, Christopher Peacocke and Georges Rey for conversations on this topic. This work was supported by a grant from the French ministry of research (ANR-BLAN SOCODEV). I dedicate this paper to the memory of my friend Marc Jeannerod who died on July 1, 2011.

Institut Jean Nicod, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris, France.


This paper assesses the scope and limits of a widely influential model of goal-ascription by human infants: the shared-intentionality model. It derives much of its appeal from its ability to integrate behavioral evidence from developmental psychology with cognitive neuroscientific evidence about the role of mirror neuron activity in non-human primates. The central question raised by this model is whether sharing a goal with an agent is necessary and sufficient for ascribing it to that agent. I argue that advocates of the shared-intentionality model underestimate both the distinction between the target and the goal of a goal-directed action and the gap between sharing and ascribing a goal.