No Joint Ownership! Shared Emotions Are Social-relational Emotions

Vivian Bohl


There are cases of emotion that we readily describe as 'sharing emotions with other people.' How should we understand such cases? Joel Krueger has proposed the Joint Ownership Thesis (JOT): the view that two or more people can literally share the same emotional episode. His view is partly inspired by his reading of Merleau-Ponty -- arguably Merleau-Ponty advocates a version of JOT in his "The child's relations with others." My critical analysis demonstrates that JOT is flawed in several respects: 1) It involves a vague account of joint subjects; 2) It relies on a confusion between phenomenological and ontological levels of analysis. When these are clearly distinguished, Krueger's phenomenological analysis contradicts JOT understood as an ontological claim; 3) It relies on a highly problematic coupling-constitution inference; 4) It relies on a shift from the claim that the child and the caregiver jointly realize an emotion, to the claim about joint ownership, which is a non sequitur. I argue that we can reach a better understanding of the phenomenon of shared emotions by bringing in another level of analysis: that of social relationships. I propose that shared emotions are a special case of social-relational emotions, typically arising within and/or giving rise to communal relationships.


social cognition, social relationships, relational models theory, shared mental states, collective intentionality, joint ownership thesis

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