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A Plea for Descriptive Social Ontology

Tuesday, February 22, 2022, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm

This colloquium talk is planned as an online event on Zoom.

Please note that this colloquium talk is going to start at 4 PM.


Authors: Olivier Massin (University of Neuchâtel) & Kathrin Koslicki (University of Neuchâtel)

Abstract: Naturalistic approaches to social phenomena hold that one of the primary tasks of social ontology is to understand how social entities can exist within a physical world. Given such an approach, social phenomena — quite like mental states in philosophy of mind— are regarded from the start as potential troublemakers for the naturalistic order. In this paper, we propose to bracket this naturalistic constraint for the purposes of developing a descriptive social ontology. Descriptive social ontology, as we shall conceive of it, is not incompatible with naturalist social ontology, but prior to it. If social phenomena are to be reduced to non-social phenomena —psychological or physical ones— we need first to be clear on the kind of candidate for reduction that they constitute. While such a descriptive or naïve approach to metaphysics has been influential in general metaphysics (see Fine, 2017 for a recent reassessment), it has so far not been developed in analytic social ontology (though things are different outside of analytic philosophy, see esp. Reinach, 1913). We shall outline the contours of a descriptive approach by arguing, on the negative side, that pressing issues about physical reduction and social individualism need to be bracketed if one is to reach a non-biased description of social phenomena. On the positive side, we shall maintain that an essentialist framework, which tries to trace essential connections between social phenomena, is best suited for arriving at a useful description of social phenomena.

Fine, Kit (2017): “Naïve Metaphysics”, Philosophical Issues, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 98-113

Reinach, Adolf (1913): “Die apriorischen Grundlagen des bürgerlichen Rechtes”, Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, Vol. 1, pp. 685–847