This chapter investigates whether signs and their action, semiosis, are real. It critically surveys three arguments. The first argument consists in holding that semiosis must be real, because denying the reality of signs is self-defeating. This self-confirming status seems to imply that semiosis is the very means by which we partition the mind-independent and mind-dependent. One would then need to clarify this ontological neutrality or priority. The second argument consists in identifying an instance of sign-action that is mind-independent. Instead of (...) searching for abiotic semiosis, a more parsimonious approach is to ask whether we want reality to be what exists apart from minds in general or apart from human minds specifically. If we adopt the latter view, and if the action of signs can be shown to take place in the non-human realm, this would show that semiosis does not depend on us. One would then need to explain how humans can interpret all this while putting themselves out of the equation, so to speak. The third argument consists in saying that, despite its initial plausibility, the mind-dependent and mind-independent division is not clear-cut. This is because some conventional patterns can be informationally compressed in ways that are practically indistinguishable from genuinely mind-independent patterns. One would then need to clarify how the mind-dependent/mind-independent divide can admit of such hybrid cases. (shrink)
Recent contributions to the philosophy of the social sciences have motivated ontological commitments using appeals to the social sciences (_naturalized_ social ontologies). These arguments rely on social scientific realism about the social sciences, the view that our social scientific theories are approximately true. I apply a distinction formulated in metaontology between ontologically loaded and unloaded meanings of existential quantification to argue that there is a pragmatic approach to naturalized social ontology that is minimally realist (it treats existence claims as true (...) or false) but that is ontologically austere. I argue that the extant arguments may be construed in terms of this pragmatic approach. The result is an approach to social ontology that is deflationist about naturalized social ontology. (shrink)
Work on the conceptual amelioration of race concepts is usually negative or critical: it uncovers social features that contribute to racial hierarchies. Much less focus has been placed on how ameliorative accounts contribute to positive change. Using an account of race developed by Steve Biko during South African apartheid, I will argue that we can extract a novel account of positive amelioration in which racial categories can have normative or aspirational force, contributing to positive change.
The kinds of real or natural kinds that support explanation and prediction in the social sciences are difficult to identify and track because they change through time, intersect with one another, and they do not always exhibit their properties when one encounters them. As a result, conceptual practices directed at these kinds will often refer in ways that are partial, equivocal, or redundant. To improve this epistemic situation, it is important to employ open-ended classificatory concepts, to understand when different research (...) programs are tracking the same real kind, and to maintain an ongoing commitment to interact causally with real kinds to focus reference on those kinds. A tempting view of these non-idealized epistemic conditions should be avoided: that they signal an ontological structure of the social world so plentiful that it would permit ameliorated classificatory schemes to achieve their normative aims regardless of whether they defer to real-kind classificatory schemes. To ground these discussions, the essay appeals to an overlooked convergence in the systematic naturalistic frameworks of Richard Boyd and Ruth Millikan. (shrink)
During the second half of the 20th century education has been recognized as a human right in several international conventions, and the UN also holds that “Education shall be free” and that “Elementary education shall be compulsory”. The education-as-a-human right-project could be viewed as a good intention of global inclusion in recognizing that all individuals have a right to education in virtue of being humans, and the idea of education as a human right thus has a tremendous global significance. However, (...) if we look at this more critically, the education-as-a-human right-project, may not only be grounded in altruistic good intensions for the disadvantaged. The term “elementary education”, or sometimes “primary education”, which is used in several human rights-documents seems to suggest that it is some sort of formalized education. It would be useful however to make a distinction between formal and informal education, as well as between teaching, learning, education and schooling, in the discussion of the right to education and specifically in the discussion concerning education as a “human right”. There is obviously a difference between the right to teach, the right to learn, the right to education and the right to schooling. And how are these rights related to compulsory schooling, compulsory education and the supposed duty to teach and duty to learn? A further concern is what makes this a human right rather than for example a juridical right as a citizen. By addressing these questions within a theoretical framework of social ontology and ameliorative conceptual analysis I believe that we can find new ways of dealing with fundamental problems within philosophy of education such as the nature, purpose and aims of education as well as the right to education. (shrink)
We propose a domain-level ontology of plays for the facilitation of play-based collaborative autonomy among unmanned and manned-unmanned aircraft teams in the Army’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) mission domain. We define a play as a type of plan that prescribes some pattern of intentional acts that are intended to reliably result in some goal in some competitive context, and which specifies one or more roles that are realized by those prescribed intentional acts. The ontology is well suited to be extended (...) to other types of military and nonmilitary unmanned vehicle operations. (shrink)
“O estudo de questões jurídicas, em seus aspectos filosóficos, é um modo de compreender um dos fenômenos mais completos da vida humana, da vida em sociedade, embora os aspectos legais sejam diferentes em cada grupo social. Nesse sentido, Filosofia e Direito: estudos é uma contribuição que serve para aprofundar a presença jurídica de bases filosóficas. É preciso recordar que as distinções servem para a compreensão humana e para melhor entender a unidade dos fenômenos. Enquanto a ciência estuda os aspectos dogmáticos (...) do Direito, a filosofia estuda os fundamentos ontológicos, epistemológicos e éticos do Direito. O explícito pressupõe o implícito. Além dessas distinções disciplinares, inúmeros outros ângulos do problema podem ser examinados. Uma prova disso é a natureza dos ensaios apresentados nesse livro como resultados de estudos programados e sistemáticos. Os autores dos ensaios, aqui publicados, portanto, não excluem outras investigações e nem sequer se pensam completos.” -/- Jayme Paviani. (shrink)
Philosophical accounts of collective intentionality typically rely on members to form a personal intention of sorts, viewed as a mental state. This tendency is opposed by recent economic literature on team-directed reasoning, which focuses on the reasoning process leading up to the formation of the members’ intentions. Our formal analysis bridges these paradigms and criticizes the team- directed reasoning account on two counts: first, team-directed reasoning is supposed to transcend traditional game and decision theory by adopting a certain collectivistic reasoning (...) method. However, we show that team-directed reasoning yields the same action recommendations as a certain I-mode we-intention type. Accordingly, an important part of we-mode reasoning can be reduced to I-mode reasoning with certain preferences. Second, contrary to the claims of team-directed-reasoning theorists, we refute that team-directed reasoning surpasses pro-group intentions in selecting cooperatively rational solutions. That is, in some scenarios team-directed reasoning fails to guarantee successful cooperation whereas pro-group intentions succeed in doing so. We therefore propose to revise team-directed reasoning and introduce a third we-intention type, called participatory intentions. We prove that participatory intentions guarantee that a best group action is performed whenever either team-directed reasoning or pro-group intentions do. (shrink)
Searle’s social ontology is criticized on two grounds: (1) that Searle’s arguments do not adequately support his commitment to logically and conceptually irreducible collective-to-individual intentionality, and (2) his formulation of the constitutive rule of collective intentionality conferring symbolic social status on intended objects does not express the required concept as clearly, unequivocally, or economically as available alternatives. Two corresponding positive recommendations are offered in response to both criticisms for developing a conservatively improved neo-Searlean philosophy of social phenomena,practices and institutions.
In his insightful and challenging paper, Jonathan Schaffer argues against a distinction I make in The Ant Trap (Epstein 2015) and related articles. I argue that in addition to the widely discussed “grounding” relation, there is a different kind of metaphysical determination I name “anchoring.” Grounding and anchoring are distinct, and both need to be a part of full explanations of how facts are metaphysically determined. Schaffer argues instead that anchoring is a species of grounding. The crux of his argument (...) comes in the last sections of his paper, in his discussion of “exportation,” the relations strategy, and the definitions strategy. I am inclined to agree that Schaffer’s interesting strategies offer the best choices for the philosopher who wants to insist that anchoring is a species of grounding. But both, I will argue, are fatally flawed. I do not take the separation of anchors from grounds lightly, but find the evidence in its favor overwhelming. And once the distinction is made, I find anchoring to be a powerful practical tool in metaphysics. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Volume 99, Issue 3, Page 768-781, November 2019. (shrink)
Social ontology is the study of the nature and properties of the social world. It is concerned with analyzing the various entities in the world that arise from social interaction. -/- A prominent topic in social ontology is the analysis of social groups. Do social groups exist at all? If so, what sorts of entities are they, and how are they created? Is a social group distinct from the collection of people who are its members, and if so, how is (...) it different? What sorts of properties do social groups have? Can they have beliefs or intentions? Can they perform actions? And if so, what does it take for a group to believe, intend, or act? -/- Other entities investigated in social ontology include money, corporations, institutions, property, social classes, races, genders, artifacts, artworks, language, and law. It is difficult to delineate a precise scope for the field (see section 2.1). In general, though, the entities explored in social ontology largely overlap with those that social scientists work on. A good deal of the work in social ontology takes place within the social sciences (see sections 5.1–5.8). -/- Social ontology also addresses more basic questions about the nature of the social world. One set of questions pertains to the constituents, or building blocks, of social things in general. For instance, some theories argue that social entities are built out of the psychological states of individual people, while others argue that they are built out of actions, and yet others that they are built out of practices. Still other theories deny that a distinction can even be made between the social and the non-social. -/- A different set of questions pertains to how social categories are constructed or set up. Are social categories and kinds produced by our attitudes? By our language? Are they produced by causal patterns? And is there just one way social categories are set up, or are there many varieties of social construction? -/- The term ‘social ontology’ has only come into wide currency in recent years, but the nature of the social has been a topic of inquiry since ancient Greece. As a whole, the field can be understood as a branch of metaphysics, the general inquiry into the nature of entities. (shrink)
Polish translation of "John Searle: From Speech Acts to Social Reality", -/- We provide an overview of Searle's contributions to speech act theory and the ontology of social reality, focusing on his theory of constitutive rules. In early versions of this theory, Searle proposed that all such rules have the form 'X counts as Y in context C' formula – as for example when Barack Obama (X) counts as President of the United States (Y) in the context of US political (...) affairs. Crucially, the X and the Y terms are here identical. A problem arises for this theory for cases involving 'free-standing Y terms', as for example in the case of money in a computerized bank account. Here there is no physical X to which a status function might be attached. We conclude by arguing that Searle's response to this problem creates difficulties for his naturalistic framework. (shrink)
Social reality is a key problem in the philosophy of social science. Outlining the major historical and contemporary issues raised by the social reality and social facts, this book has something to offer both philosophers and social scientists. To the former is shows how the well-worn topic of realism versus anti-realism assumes new and interestingly varied forms when social reality is substituted for physical reality. For the social scientist, the book offers conceptual clarification of key issues in recent social science (...) which are really philosophical issues. (shrink)
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 (...) that ontological individualism is false. Only if the thesis is weakened to the point that it is equivalent to physicalism can it be true, but then it fails to be a thesis about the determination of social facts by facts about individual persons. Even when individualistic facts are expanded to include people’s local environments and practices, I shall argue, those still underdetermine the social facts that obtain. If true, this has implications for explanation as well as ontology. I first consider arguments against the local supervenience of social facts on facts about individuals, correcting some flaws in existing arguments and affirming that local supervenience fails for a broad set of social properties. I subsequently apply a similar approach to defeat a particularly weak form of global supervenience, and consider potential responses. Finally, I explore why it is that people have taken ontological individualism to be true. (shrink)
Software agents’ ability to interact within different open systems, designed by different groups, presupposes an agreement on an unambiguous definition of a set of concepts, used to describe the context of the interaction and the communication language the agents can use. Agents’ interactions ought to allow for reliable expectations on the possible evolution of the system; however, in open systems interacting agents may not conform to predefined specifications. A possible solution is to define interaction environments including a normative component, with (...) suitable rules to regulate the behaviour of agents. To tackle this problem we propose an application-independent metamodel of artificial institutions that can be used to define open multiagent systems. In our view an artificial institution is made up by an ontology that models the social context of the interaction, a set of authorizations to act on the institutional context, a set of linguistic conventions for the performance of institutional actions and a system of norms that are necessary to constrain the agents’ actions. (shrink)
For more than three decades John Searle has been developing and elaborating a unified theory of language and mind. What has emerged is an impressive and detailed account of intentionality embracing both mental states and linguistic behaviour. Though the developing theory has been presented in a steady stream of books and articles over the last thirty years, two items stand out as major landmarks: the publication of Speech Acts in 1969 and of Intentionality in 1983. Both of these seminal books (...) offer structural theories; that is, they analyze the items within their domains as having a structure which allows for variation along a number of parameters. John Searle and His Critics proceeds from an analysis of the importance and influence of these two works to an overall assessment of Searle's impact in the philosophy of language, of mind, of social explanation, and of reference and intentionality. Each of the chapters has been newly commissioned from a leading scholar in the relevant field and each section concludes with a summary and response from Searle himself. (shrink)
This article disputes the common view that social science explanations depend on discovery of lawlike generalizations from which descriptions of social outcomes can be derived. It distinguishes between governing and phenomenal regularities, and argues that social regularities are phenomenal rather than governing. In place of nomological deductive arguments, the article maintains that social explanations depend on the discovery of causal mechanisms underlying various social processes. The metaphysical correlate of this argument is that there are no social kinds: types of social (...) entities that share a common casual constitution giving rise to strong regularities of behavior. The article turns next to a consideration of the character of social causation and argues for a microfoundational interpretation of social causation: social causal powers are embodied in the constraints and opportunities that institutions present to individual agents. Finally, it is noted that these arguments have consequences for the credibility of social predictions: it is argued that predictions in social science are generally unreliable. (shrink)
A suggestion famously made by Peter Winch and carried through to present discussions holds that what constitutes the social as a kind consists of something shared – rules or practices commonly learned, internalized, or otherwise acquired by all members belonging to a society. This essays argues against the explanatory efficacy of appeals to this shared something as constitutive of a social kind by examining a violation of social norms or rules, viz., mistakes. I argue that an asymmetric relation exists between (...) the notion of mistakes and that of the social. In particular, mistakes do not presuppose a concept of the social, but the concept of the social requires prior specification of a category of mistakes. But no such prior specification proves possible. The very notion of a mistake is so inchoate that it makes it impossible to provide the kind of regimentation required for a rule-governed domain. Thus, there may be recognized mistakes even in the absence of a unified system or common knowledge of norms.Later writers attempt to avoid Winch's over-strong assumption that something shared and internal constitutes the social but cannot. Extending recent work by Stephen Turner, I argue that ``the social'' is not a domain that is susceptible to lawlike treatment, but rather a heterogeneous, motley collection. For absent the assumption of a shared something, no social object exists to be explained. So, I conclude, we have at present no clear way of marking out the social as a coherent or unified domain of inquiry. (shrink)
Realism in Action is a selection of essays written by leading representatives in the fields of action theory and philosophy of mind, philosophy of the social sciences and especially the nature of social action, and of epistemology and philosophy of science. Practical reason, reasons and causes in action theory, intending and trying, and folk-psychological explanation are some of the topics discussed by these leading participants. A particular emphasis is laid on trust, commitments and social institutions, on the possibility of grounding (...) social notions in individual social attitudes, on the nature of social groups, institutions and collective intentionality, and on common belief and common knowledge. Applications to the social sciences include, e.g., a look at the Erklären-Verstehen controversy in economics, and at constructivist and realist views on archeological reconstructions of the past. (shrink)
I will do two things in this paper. First, I examine the issue of construction in the social sciences by using “teenage pregnancy” as an example. Following Michel Foucault's genealogical studies, I show that new categories were constructed to study teenage pregnancies, but that the construction involved does not support an extreme theory of construction—a theory which allows of nothing like “reality”. Second, I study the interaction between the categories used in investigations of teenage pregnancies and those to whom such (...) categories are applied, namely the young mothers themselves. The interaction illustrates what Ian Hacking has described as a “looping effect” characteristic of categories used to study people and their behaviour. I claim that with teenage pregnancy, the looping effect is much more complex than Hacking suggests. (shrink)
I outline a deflationary truthmakers account of social groups. Potentially, the approach allows us to say, with traditional ontological individualists, that there are only pluralities of individuals out there, ontologically speaking, but that there are nevertheless colloquial and social-scientific truths about social groups. If tenable, this kind of theory has the virtue of being both ontologically parsimonious and compatible with ordinary and social-scientific discourse—a virtue which the stock reductive / ontological dependence accounts of social groups arguably lack.
The paper indicates how social kinds may be internally and objectively unified in a way continuous with physical kinds. It argues that the practice of theorizing is continuous with other practices to the extent that theorists, like anyone engaged in a practice, needs to make choices that are responsive to purposes (and corresponding values) guiding the practice. The paper discusses Epstein's theory of anchoring, and argues for a theory of scaffolding social kinds.
My purpose in this text is to offer a general roadmap for navigating most current debates in the metaphysics of social categories regarding what sort of fact it is for a person to inhabit one social category or another—for example, what makes a person Mexican, or gay, or rich. With this goal in mind, I propose classifying the debating positions into three broad camps: common sense theories, socio-historical accounts, and performative theories. I characterise their main differences, identifying the main challenges (...) and achievements of each. I show that for persons well integrated into their categories, the differences between these three broad camps are minuscule, yet become crucial when we try to account for people not so well integrated. Then, I sketch a pluralist proposal that reconciles the three camps I have identified, while doing justice to the challenges presented by interstitial phenomena such as mestizaje, transition, passing, migration, etc. (shrink)
Was bisexuality a widespread feature of ancient Greek society? This question is an instance of cross-cultural projection -- of taking the means through which people are categorized in one culture and applying it to members of another. It’s widely held by those who think that sexual orientation is socially constructed that its projection poses a problem. In this paper, I offer a more careful analysis of this alleged problem. To analyze projection, I adapt Iris Einheuser’s substratum-carving model of conventionalism to (...) fit the specific needs of social construction. Using this model, I show that projection is conceptually coherent, and so does not for that reason pose any problem. Along the way, I identify some of the epistemic difficulties facing projection. While these difficulties are formidable, they are not substantially affected by the constructivist claim. I therefore conclude that there is no unique problem facing the projection of a socially constructed sexual orientation. (shrink)
Though the social world is real and objective, the way that social facts arise out of other facts is in an important way shaped by human thought, talk and behaviour. Building on recent work in social ontology, I describe a mechanism whereby this distinctive malleability of social facts, combined with the possibility of basic human error, makes it possible for a consistent physical reality to ground an inconsistent social reality. I explore various ways of resisting the prima facie case for (...) social inconsistency. I conclude, however, that the prima facie case survives scrutiny, and draw out some of the ramifications. (shrink)
Brian Epstein has recently argued that a thoroughly microfoundationalist approach towards economics is unconvincing for metaphysical reasons. Generally, Epstein argues that for an improvement in the methodology of social science we must adopt social ontology as the foundation of social sciences; that is, the standing microfoundationalist debate could be solved by fixing economics’ ontology. However, as I show in this paper, fixing the social ontology prior to the process of model construction is optional instead of necessary and that metaphysical-ontological commitments (...) are often the outcome of model construction, not its starting point. By focusing on the practice of modeling in economics the paper provides a useful inroad into the debate about the role of metaphysics in the natural and social sciences more generally. (shrink)
Ideology is commonly defined along functional, epistemic, and genetic dimensions. This article advances a reasonably unified account that specifies how they connect and locates the mechanisms at work. I frame the account along a recent distinction between anchoring and grounding, endorse an etiological reading of functional explanations, and draw on current work about the epistemology of delusion, looping effects, and structuring causes to explain how ideologies originate, reproduce, and possibly collapse. This eventually allows articulating how the legitimating function of ideologies (...) relates to the constitutive and causal role they play when embedded into the facts they are originally designed to anchor. (shrink)
Conventional wisdom has it that truth is always evaluated using our actual linguistic conventions, even when considering counterfactual scenarios in which different conventions are adopted. This principle has been invoked in a number of philosophical arguments, including Kripke’s defense of the necessity of identity and Lewy’s objection to modal conventionalism. But it is false. It fails in the presence of what Einheuser (2006) calls c-monsters, or convention-shifting expressions (on analogy with Kaplan’s monsters, or context-shifting expressions). We show that c-monsters naturally (...) arise in contexts, such as metalinguistic negotiations, where speakers entertain alternative conventions. We develop an expressivist theory—inspired by Barker (2002) and MacFarlane (2016) on vague predications and Einheuser (2006) on counterconventionals—to model these shifts in convention. Using this framework, we reassess the philosophical arguments that invoked the conventional wisdom. (shrink)
Saying so can make it so, J. L. Austin taught us long ago. Famously, John Searle has developed this Austinian insight in an account of the construction of institutional reality. Searle maintains that so-called Status Function Declarations, allegedly having a “double direction of fit”, synchronically create worldly institutional facts, corresponding to the propositional content of the declarations. I argue that Searle’s account of the making of institutional reality is in tension with the special theory of relativity—irrespective of whether the account (...) is interpreted as involving causal generation or non-causal grounding of worldly institutional facts—and should be replaced by a more modest theory which interprets the results of Status Function Declarations in terms of mere Cambridge change and institutional truth. I end the paper by indicating the import of this more modest theory for theorizing about the causal potency of institutional phenomena generated by declarations. (shrink)
ABSTRACTThe Ant Trap is a terrific book, which opens up new opportunities to use philosophical methods in the social realm, by drawing on the tools and techniques of contemporary metaphysics. Epstein uses concepts of dependence, constitution, and grounding, of parts and whole, of membership and kindhood, both to clarify existing accounts of social reality and to develop an account of his own. Whilst I admire the general strategy, I take issue with some aspects of Epstein’s implementation, notably his distinction between (...) grounding and anchoring. I recommend that he give up this distinction, which is not crucial to his project. (shrink)
ABSTRACTBrian Epstein’s The Ant Trap is a praiseworthy addition to literature on social ontology and the philosophy of social sciences. Its central aim is to challenge received views about the social world – views with which social scientists and philosophers have aimed to answer questions about the nature of social science and about those things that social sciences aim to model and explain, like social facts, objects and phenomena. The received views that Epstein critiques deal with these issues in an (...) overly people-centered manner. After all, even though social facts and phenomena clearly involve individual people arranged in certain ways, we must still spell out how people are involved in social facts and phenomena. There are many metaphysical questions about social properties, relations, dependence, constitution, causation, and facts that cannot be answered just be looking at individual people alone. In order to answer questions about how one social entity depends for its existence on another, we need different metaphysical tools. Epstein thus holds that social ontological explanations would greatly benefit from making use of the theoretical toolkit that contemporary analytical metaphysics has to offer. He focuses specifically on two metaphysical instruments: grounding and anchoring. This paper examines Epstein’s understanding and use of these tools. I contend that Epstein is exactly right to say that contemporary metaphysics contains many theoretical instruments that can be fruitfully applied to social ontological analyses. However, I am unconvinced that Epstein’s tools achieve what they set out to do. In particular, I will address two issues: How is grounding for Epstein meant to work? Is anchoring distinct from grounding, and a relation that we need in social ontology? (shrink)
ABSTRACTEpstein compares models of group agents that focus on their internal organization to models that focus on the statuses they have. He argues that status models are inadequate because agency is not something that can be attributed by fiat. Even if this is true, however, certain agential powers can be attributed to group agents. I argue that Epstein’s arguments stand to benefit a lot from recognizing that some group agents have statuses and constitute corporate agents. For instance, only corporate agents (...) can exist without having members. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to bring recent work on metaphysical grounding to bear on the phenomenon of social construction. It is argued that grounding can be used to analyze social construction and that the grounding framework is helpful for articulating various claims and commitments of social constructionists, especially about social identities, e.g., gender and race. The paper also responds to a number of objections that have been leveled against the application of grounding to social construction from Elizabeth Barnes, (...) Mari Mikkola, and Jessica Wilson. (shrink)
The goal of this paper is to make headway on a metaphysics of social construction. In recent work, I’ve argued that social construction should be understood in terms of metaphysical grounding. However, I agree with grounding skeptics like Wilson that bare claims about what grounds what are insufficient for capturing, with fine enough grain, metaphysical dependence structures. To that end, I develop a view on which the social construction of human social kinds is a kind of realization relation. Social kinds, (...) I argue, are multiply realizable kinds. I depart from the Wilson by further arguing that an appeal to grounding is not otiose when it comes to social construction. Social construction, I claim, belongs to the “big-G” Grounding genus, but it is the specific “small-g” relation of realization at work in cases of human kind social construction. (shrink)
The distinction between anchors and grounds is one of the most innovative contributions of The Ant Trap. In this commentary I will argue that the distinction suffers from an ambiguity between tokens and types. This leads Epstein to endorse pluralism about anchors and grounds, a position that is not justified in the book and to which there are plausible alternatives.
This article summarizes The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences. The book develops a new model for social ontology, applies it to groups and collective intentionality, and criticizes various forms of individualism. Part One of the book presents two traditional approaches to social ontology and unifies them into the “grounding–anchoring model” for the building of the social world. Part Two shows that individualism is mistaken even for basic facts about groups of people, challenges prevailing views of group (...) intention and action, and illustrates how to approach facts about groups in general. (shrink)
This article responds to comments by Francesco Guala and Mattia Gallotti on The Ant Trap. In the replies, I address the relation of new advances in cognitive science to the study of collective attitudes, clarify distinct questions we might ask about grounding and about anchoring in social ontology, defend various forms of pluralism about grounds and about anchors, and discuss the type-token distinction as it applies to social entities.
In The Ant Trap, Brian Epstein proposes a bold new systematic strategy for developing social ontology. He explores the history and current state of the art and provides pointed critiques of leading theories in the field. His framework, incompassing frames that provide principles for grounding social facts, is developed in some detail across a variety of social practices and applied to revealing real world as well as hyporthetical examples. If Epstein's account holds, it should provide new directions and standards of (...) inquiry in both social sciecne and social philiosophy. (shrink)
This paper sets out an organizing framework for the field of social ontology, the study of the nature of the social world. The subject matter of social ontology is clarified, in particular the difference between it and the study of causal relations and the explanation of social phenomena. Two different inquiries are defined and explained: the study of the grounding of social facts, and the study of how social categories are “anchored” or set up. The distinction between these inquiries is (...) used to clarify prominent programs in social theory, particularly theories of practice and varieties of individualism. (shrink)
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 (...) and challenges the three prevailing traditions about how the social world is made. One tradition takes the social world to be built out of people, much as traffic is built out of cars. A second tradition also takes people to be the building blocks of the social world, but focuses on thoughts and attitudes we have toward one another. And a third tradition takes the social world to be a collective projection onto the physical world. Epstein shows that these share critical flaws. Most fundamentally, all three traditions overestimate the role of people in building the social world: they are overly anthropocentric. Epstein starts from scratch, bringing the resources of contemporary metaphysics to bear. In the place of traditional theories, he introduces a model based on a new distinction between the grounds and the anchors of social facts. Epstein illustrates the model with a study of the nature of law, and shows how to interpret the prevailing traditions about the social world. Then he turns to social groups, and to what it means for a group to take an action or have an intention. Contrary to the overwhelming consensus, these often depend on more than the actions and intentions of group members. (shrink)
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 (...) is a variety of what I call “anchoring schemas,” or methods by which new social kinds are generated. Not only are social kinds a diverse lot, but the metaphysical explanation for their being the kinds they are is diverse as well. I explain the idea of anchoring and present examples of social kinds that are similar to one another but that are anchored in different ways. I also respond to Millikan’s argument that there is only one kind of “glue” that is “sticky enough” for holding together kinds. I argue that no anchoring schema will work in all environments. It is a contingent matter which schemas are successful for anchoring new social kinds, and an anchoring schema need only be “sticky enough” for practical purposes in a given environment. (shrink)
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 (...) individuals put in place the conditions for a social entity to exist, or the conditions for something to have a social property. Examples include conventionalist theories of the social world, such as David Hume’s theories of promises, money, and government, and collective acceptance theories, such as John Searle’s theory of institutional facts. Anchor individualism is often conflated with ontological individualism. But in fact, the two theses are in tension with one another: if one of these kinds of individualism is true, then the other is very unlikely to be. My aim in this paper is to clarify both, and argue that they should be sharply distinguished from one another. (shrink)
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 – (...) and less intellectualist – approach to social ontology. (shrink)