Who are we?

Name of applicant

Dan Zahavi


University of Copenhagen


DKK 14,575,940



Type of grant

Semper Ardens: Advance


We can enjoy a symphony, solve a task, reach a decision and make plans for the future together, just as we can share beliefs, emotions, traditions and even a collective identity together. But what does it mean to feel, think, and act as part of a we? Who or what is this we, to whom intentions, beliefs, emotions, and actions are attributed, and how does it come about? Is the we prior to individual subjectivity or does the we presuppose a plurality of pre-existing selves? How is collective intentionality related to social cognition? And what is the relation between a short-lived dyadic we and a more enduring communal we?


The we is a key feature of human sociality and an integral part of everyday life. By developing a systematically convincing and phenomenologically valid account of the complex interrelation between the we, the you, and the I, the project will contribute to a clarification of foundational issues in the humanities and social sciences and offer insights of relevance for ongoing debates in developmental psychology, social neuroscience, social psychology, sociology, and political science.


The project is theoretical rather than empirical in nature. One of its guiding hypothesis is that a adequate account of the we must be embedded in a more comprehensive investigation of self-identity and social cognition. In addition, the project will combine systematic theorizing with historical scholarship. Philosophers such as Scheler, Stein, Husserl, Walther, Heidegger, Löwith, Gurwitsch and Schutz all engaged in extensive discussions of collective intentionality, affective sharing, and communal experience in the interwar period, and the project will explore ideas from this fertile period and assess their validity and contemporary relevance.

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