Against Atomic Individualism in Plural Subject Theory

Phenomenology and Mind 3:65-81 (2012)
Abstract
Within much contemporary social ontology there is a particular methodology at work. This methodology takes as a starting point two or more asocial or atomic individuals. These individuals are taken to be perfectly functional agents, though outside of all social relations. Following this, combinations of these individuals are considered, to deduce what constitutes a social group. Here I will argue that theories which rely on this methodology are always circular, so long as they purport to describe the formation of all social groups, as they must always presuppose a pre-existing collectivity. Such methodology also produces various distortions in our theories, such as voluntarism. I focus on the workings of Plural Subject Theory as laid out by Margaret Gilbert in On Social Facts (1989). I show that the formation of a plural subject always requires communication, and that communication always requires a pre-existing collectivity. i examine the elements within Plural Subject Theory which protect gilbert from these accusations of circularity, and argue against them. I finalise by suggesting that what Plural Subject Theory, and social ontology in general, requires as a theoretical starting point is not atomic individuals and their combinations, but rather combinations of already socialised or embedded individuals.
Keywords Atomism  Plural Subject Theory  Voluntarism  Social Ontology  Group Formation
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