Social Kinds, Reference, and Meta-Ontological Revisionism

Journal of Social Ontology 4 (2):137-156 (2018)

Michel-Antoine Xhignesse
University of British Columbia
Julian Dodd has characterized the default position in metaphysics as meta-ontologically realist: the answers to first-order ontological questions are thought to be entirely independent of the things we say and think about the entities at issue. Consequently, folk ontologies are liable to substantial error. But while this epistemic humility is commendable where the ontology of natural kinds is concerned, it seems misplaced with respect to social kinds since their ontology is dependent upon the human social world. Using art and art-kinds as paradigmatic examples of social kinds, I argue that meta-ontological realism sets conditions that are too strict to apply to social kinds. Nevertheless, I argue that we should not be too quick to embrace the conclusion that our folk theories of social kinds cannot err substantially. By modelling the reference of social kind-terms on that of natural kind-terms, it becomes clear that in both cases, our sole epistemic privilege lies in our ability to pinpoint the subject of our inquiries.
Keywords natural kinds  social kinds  art-kinds  reference  folk-theoretic modesty  meta-ontological realism  revisionism  descriptivism
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DOI 10.1515/jso-2018-0013
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