How Social Institutions Can Imitate Nature

Topoi 35 (1):327-338 (2016)
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Abstract

The opposition between nature and culture has always been paradigmatic in the philosophy of society, and in this sense it is certainly striking that, in contemporary theories of collective acceptance in social ontology—theories which actually entail the presence of individual mental content in the form of beliefs—the shaping role of culture has not found significant recognition. However, it cannot but be trivially true that cultural presuppositions play a role in the maintenance and development of beliefs on rules and other kinds of abstract artifacts. But once we recognize that the reality of social institutions is at least culturally-dependent, the question emerges whether there is still room for nature as a possible determinant of social reality. Many authors maintain that there is and argue that there are objective natural features shared by human beings which are necessary conditions to explain the emergence of institutional structures within society. This is a culture-independent relation between nature and social institutions. In this paper, however, I will try to argue that there is another, very peculiar, way in which nature can work as a possible determinant of social reality, a way which is instead culture-dependent. In particular, I will give three examples of this kind of culture-dependent relations—examples about states, corporations, and contracts—and I will introduce a new concept to account for it, that of “institutional mimesis.” I will then provide an explanation of how institutional mimesis can have an impact on the content of collective acceptance by appealing to two influential theories in contemporary cognitive psychology. Finally, I will explain the ontological significance of institutional mimesis using Ian Hacking’s concept of historical ontology.

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Corrado Roversi
Università degli Studi di Bologna

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References found in this work

Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind.John R. Searle - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
The concept of law.Hla Hart - 1961 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Economy and Society.Max Weber - 2013 - Harvard University Press.

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