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Profile: Brian Epstein (Tufts University)
  1. Brian Epstein (2015). How Many Kinds of Glue Hold the Social World Together? In Mattia Gallotti & John Michael (eds.), Social Ontology and Social Cognition.
    In recent years, theorists have debated how we introduce new social objects and kinds into the world. Searle, for instance, proposes that they are introduced by collective acceptance of a constitutive rule; Millikan and Elder that they are the products of reproduction processes; Thomasson that they result from creator intentions and subsequent intentional reproduction; and so on. In this chapter, I argue against the idea that there is a single generic method or set of requirements for doing so. Instead, there (...)
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  2. Brian Epstein (2015). The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences. Oxford.
    We live in a world of crowds and corporations, artworks and artifacts, legislatures and languages, money and markets. These are all social objects — they are made, at least in part, by people and by communities. But what exactly are these things? How are they made, and what is the role of people in making them? In The Ant Trap, Brian Epstein rewrites our understanding of the nature of the social world and the foundations of the social sciences. Epstein explains (...)
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  3. Brian Epstein (2014). What is Individualism in Social Ontology? Ontological Individualism Vs. Anchor Individualism. In Finn Collin & Julie Zahle (eds.), Rethinking the Individualism/Holism Debate: Essays in the Philosophy of Social Science.
    Individualists about social ontology hold that social facts are “built out of” facts about individuals. In this paper, I argue that there are two distinct kinds of individualism about social ontology, two different ways individual people might be the metaphysical “builders” of the social world. The familiar kind is ontological individualism. This is the thesis that social facts supervene on, or are exhaustively grounded by, facts about individual people. What I call anchor individualism is the alternative thesis that facts about (...)
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  4. Brian Epstein (2014). Why Macroeconomics Does Not Supervene on Microeconomics. Journal of Economic Methodology 21 (1):3-18.
    In recent years, the project of providing microeconomic foundations for macroeconomics has taken on new urgency. Some philosophers and economists have challenged the project, both for the way economists actually approach microfoundations and for more general anti-reductionist reasons. Reductionists and anti-reductionists alike, however, have taken it to be trivial that the macroeconomic facts are exhaustively determined by microeconomic ones. In this paper, I challenge this supposed triviality. I argue that macroeconomic properties do not even globally supervene on microeconomic ones. This (...)
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  5. Brian Epstein (2013). Social Objects Without Intentions. In Anita Konzelmann Ziv & Hans Bernhard Schmid (eds.), Institutions, Emotions, and Group Agents: Contributions to Social Ontology. 53-68.
    It is often seen as a truism that social objects and facts are the product of human intentions. I argue that the role of intentions in social ontology is commonly overestimated. I introduce a distinction that is implicit in much discussion of social ontology, but is often overlooked: between a social entity’s “grounds” and its “anchors.” For both, I argue that intentions, either individual or collective, are less essential than many theorists have assumed. Instead, I propose a more worldly – (...)
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  6. Brian Epstein & Patrick Forber (2013). The Perils of Tweaking: How to Use Macrodata to Set Parameters in Complex Simulation Models. Synthese 190 (2):203-218.
    When can macroscopic data about a system be used to set parameters in a microfoundational simulation? We examine the epistemic viability of tweaking parameter values to generate a better fit between the outcome of a simulation and the available observational data. We restrict our focus to microfoundational simulations—those simulations that attempt to replicate the macrobehavior of a target system by modeling interactions between microentities. We argue that tweaking can be effective but that there are two central risks. First, tweaking risks (...)
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  7. Brian Epstein (2012). Review of Creations of the Mind, Ed. Margolis and Laurence. [REVIEW] Mind 121 (481):200-204.
    This fascinating collection on artifacts brings together seven papers by philosophers with nine by psychologists, biologists, and an archaeologist. The psychological papers include two excellent discussions of empirical work on the mental representation of artifact concepts – an assessment by Malt and Sloman of a large variety of studies on the conflicting ways we classify artifacts and extend our applications of artifact categories to new cases, and a review by Mahon and Caramazza of data from semantically impaired patients and from (...)
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  8. Brian Epstein (2012). Sortals and Criteria of Identity. Analysis 72 (3):474-478.
    In a recent article, Harold Noonan argues that application conditions and criteria of identity are not distinct from one another. This seems to threaten the standard approach to distinguishing sortals from adjectival terms. I propose that his observation, while correct, does not have this consequence. I present a simple scheme for distinguishing sortals from adjectival terms. I also propose an amended version of the standard canonical form of criteria of identity.
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  9. Brian Epstein (2012). The SAGE Handbook of the Philosophy of Social Sciences, Edited by Jarvie and Zamora-Bonilla. SAGE Publications, 2011, Xvii + 749 Pages. [REVIEW] Economics and Philosophy 28 (3):428-435.
    Book Reviews Brian Epstein, Economics and Philosophy , FirstView Article(s).
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  10. Brian Epstein (2011). Agent-Based Modeling and the Fallacies of Individualism. In Paul Humphreys & Cyrille Imbert (eds.), Models, Simulations, and Representations. Routledge. 115444.
    Agent-​​based modeling is showing great promise in the social sciences. However, two misconceptions about the relation between social macroproperties and microproperties afflict agent-based models. These lead current models to systematically ignore factors relevant to the properties they intend to model, and to overlook a wide range of model designs. Correcting for these brings painful trade-​​offs, but has the potential to transform the utility of such models.
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  11. Brian Epstein (2010). History and the Critique of Social Concepts. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40 (1):3-29.
    Many theorists, including Nietzsche, Adorno, and Foucault, have regarded genealogy as an important technique for social criticism. But it has been unclear how genealogy can go beyond the accomplishments of other, more mundane, critical methods. I propose a new approach to understanding the critical potential of history. I argue that theorists have been misled by the assumption that if a claim is deserving of criticism, it is because the claim is false. Turning to the criticism of concepts rather than criticism (...)
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  12. Brian Epstein (2010). The Diviner and the Scientist: Revisiting the Question of Alternative Standards of Rationality. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 78 (4):1048-1086.
    Are the standards of reasoning and rationality in divination, religious practice, and textual exegesis different from those in the sciences? Can there be different standards of reasoning and rationality at all? The intense “rationality debate” of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s focused on these questions and the related problems of relativism across cultures and systems of practice. Although philosophers were at the center of these debates at the time, they may appear to have abandoned the question in recent years. On (...)
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  13. Brian Epstein (2009). Grounds, Convention, and the Metaphysics of Linguistic Tokens. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (1):45-67.
    My aim in this paper is to discuss a metaphysical framework within which to understand “standard linguistic entities” (SLEs), such as words, sentences, phonemes, and other entities routinely employed in linguistic theory. In doing so, I aim to defuse certain kinds of skepticism, challenge convention-based accounts of SLEs, and present a series of distinctions for better understanding what the various accounts of SLEs do and do not accomplish.
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  14. Brian Epstein (2009). Ontological Individualism Reconsidered. Synthese 166 (1):187-213.
    The thesis of methodological individualism in social science is commonly divided into two different claims—explanatory individualism and ontological individualism. Ontological individualism is the thesis that facts about individuals exhaustively determine social facts. Initially taken to be a claim about the identity of groups with sets of individuals or their properties, ontological individualism has more recently been understood as a global supervenience claim. While explanatory individualism has remained controversial, ontological individualism thus understood is almost universally accepted. In this paper I argue (...)
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  15. John Collins, Robert J. Matthews, Barry C. Smith & Brian Epstein (2008). Philosophy of Linguistics. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 8 (22).
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  16. Brian Epstein (2008). The Internal and the External in Linguistic Explanation. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 8 (22):77-111.
    Chomsky and others have denied the relevance of external linguistic entities, such as E-languages, to linguistic explanation, and have questioned their coherence altogether. I discuss a new approach to understanding the nature of linguistic entities, focusing in particular on making sense of the varieties of kinds of “words” that are employed in linguistic theorizing. This treatment of linguistic entities in general is applied to constructing an understanding of external linguistic entities.
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  17. Brian Epstein (2008). The Realpolitik of Reference. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 89 (1):1–20.
    What are the conditions for fixing the reference of a proper name? Debate on this point has recently been rekindled by Scott Soames, Robin Jeshion, and others. In this paper, I sketch a new pragmatic approach to the justification of reference-fixing procedures, in opposition to accounts that insist on an invariant set of conditions for fixing reference across environments and linguistic communities. Comparing reference to other relations whose instances are introduced through "initiation" procedures, I outline a picture in which the (...)
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  18. Brian Epstein (2008). When Local Models Fail. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 38 (1):3-24.
    Models treating the simple properties of social groups have a common shortcoming. Typically, they focus on the local properties of group members and the features of the world with which group members interact. I consider economic models of bureaucratic corruption, to show that (a) simple properties of groups are often constituted by the properties of the wider population, and (b) even sophisticated models are commonly inadequate to account for many simple social properties. Adequate models and social policies must treat certain (...)
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  19. Brian Epstein (2006). Review of Millikan, Ruth Garrett, Language: A Biological Model. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2006 (5).
    Ruth Mil­likan is one of the most inter­est­ing and influ­en­tial philoso­phers alive. Her work is also hard to pen­e­trate. In this review, I try to present and assess her work on the nature of lan­guage, which is col­lected in this anthol­ogy. I also crit­i­cize her analy­sis of “nat­ural con­ven­tion” as well as her dis­cus­sion of illo­cu­tion­ary acts.
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