Skip to main content


"Disturbances of We-Intentionality in Schizophrenia and Autism: An Initial Comparison" Dr Alessandro Salice (University College Cork)

Egenis seminar series

Egenis seminar series. Main aim of this talk is to develop a comparison between the disturbed social behaviour in schizophrenia (SZ) and the disruption of sociality to be found in, especially, severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Event details

In various ways, SZ appears to involve an anomalous form of sociality. In particular, many patients report to encounter major problems with basic everyday social interactions like ‘small talk’ or with establishing social bonds like friendships, whereas they often function much better socially in situations where there are explicit and codified rules (e.g., playing games). By contrast, severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) seem to be characterized by an almost complete lack of motivation in initiating or pursuing interaction of any kind.

Following recent work in phenomenology and philosophy of mind, I will put forward the hypothesis that collective intentionality comes in two main forms: joint intentionality and we-intentionality. The notion of joint intentionality captures the idea of individuals who join forces on the basis of strategic or instrumental considerations. We-intentionality, by contrast, is not necessarily goal-oriented and is characterized by a specific self-understanding: the individuals engaging in we-intentionality ‘group-identify’ and thereby understand themselves as members of a group (or of us).

I argue that, in SZ, it is we-intentionality to be primarily altered due to the fact that the process of group-identification is hampered by the anomalous self-experiences (‘ipseity disorders’) that are characteristic of the syndrome. Whereas joint intentionality remains almost unaffected in SZ, problems with joint intentionality can be observed in ASD. For joint intentionality to be established, each interactant must be aware that the others have matching intentions: this requires basic empathic abilities, which appear to be disrupted in (severe forms of) ASD.

Concluding, I focus on the problems of we-intentionality in ASD, which seem to have altogether different reasons, if compared with similar problems in SZ. More precisely, I conjecture that, not the ipseity-disorders, but rather disruptions in basic empathic abilities are the reason why we-intentionality is hindered in ASD. I hypothesize that group-identification, especially in young infants, requires the ability to partake in joint attention, which again presupposes empathic capacities. If this hypothesis is correct, it indicates that such capacities are also necessary for we-intentionality, which may explain why this form of collective intentionality is malfunctioning in ASD.


Byrne House