There is a widespread sentiment that social objects such as nation-states, borders, and pieces of money are just figments of our collective imagination, and not really ‘out there’ in the world. Call this the ‘antirealist intuition’. Eliminativist, reductive materialist, and immaterialist views of social objects can all make sense of the antirealist intuition, in one way or another. But these views face serious difficulties. A promising alternative view is non-reductive materialism. Yet it is unclear whether, and how, the non-reductive materialist can make sense of the antirealist intuition. I develop a version of non-reductive materialism that is able to meet this explanatory demand. The central idea is that social objects are materially constituted, response-dependent objects. I go on to offer an independent argument in favor of this response-dependent view of social objects. I then suggest that a proponent of this view can appeal to the response-dependent nature of social objects to explain, or explain away, the antirealist intuition.
In recent years there has been an increased interest in applying the tools and methods of analytic metaphysics to the study of social phenomena. This essay examines how one such tool – the notion of metaphysical ground – may be used to elucidate some central notions, debates, and positions in the philosophy of race and gender, social ontology, and the philosophy of social science. Three main applications are examined: how the notion of social construction may be analyzed in ground-theoretic terms (§1); how debates over the nature of social facts may be recast as grounding debates (§2); and how the doctrine of ontological individualism may be formulated using the notion of ground (§3). The essay concludes by considering a skeptical challenge concerning the usefulness of the grounding framework for social metaphysics (§4).
Feminist metaphysicians have recently argued that many of the most influential contemporary meta-metaphysical frameworks are at odds with feminist metaphysics. In this paper I argue that the Finean framework of grounding, essence, and reality evades the main challenges that have been raised for alternative frameworks. The upshot of my discussion is that the Finean framework is an apt one for feminist metaphysics.
- "Daniel Z. Korman, Objects: Nothing Out of the Ordinary," Philosophical Review 128, 241-245 (2019) [Duke]
Critical discussion of Korman's book, focusing on the argument from counterexamples in favor of conservatism; the debunking response to this argument; and the arbitrariness arguments against conservatism.
Work In Progress
- "Norm and Object: A Normative Hylomorphic Theory of Social Objects" (email for draft)
This paper is an investigation into the metaphysics of social objects such as political borders, states, and organizations. I articulate a metaphysical puzzle concerning such objects and then propose a novel account of social objects that provides a solution to the puzzle. The basic idea behind the puzzle is that under appropriate circumstances, seemingly concrete social objects can apparently be created by acts of agreement, decree, declaration, or the like. But there is reason to believe that no concrete object can be created in this way. The central idea of my positive account is that social objects have a normative component to them, and that seemingly concrete social objects have both normative and material components. I develop this idea more rigorously using ideas from the Aristotelian hylomorphic tradition. The resulting normative hylomorphic account, I argue, solves the puzzle by providing a satisfying explanation of creation by agreement and the like, while at the same time avoiding the difficulties faced by existing accounts of social objects.
- "Social Essentialism" (email for draft)
There is widespread opposition to so-called essentialism in contemporary social theory. At the same time, the notion of essence has been revived and put to work in contemporary analytic metaphysics. This paper reexamines the prospects for essentialism in social theory, in light of these developments in the study of essence. I begin by formulating two distinct essentialist doctrines, which I call “thick social essentialism” and “thin social essentialism”. Thick social essentialism is how essentialism tends to be understood in social theory, whereas thin social essentialism is my preferred brand of neo-Aristotelian essentialism. I argue that thin social essentialism avoids the objections that social theorists have raised against thick social essentialism. I then develop and defend a positive argument in favor of thin social essentialism. Finally, I argue that thin social essentialism provides a helpful framework for projects in social ontology, social construction, and feminist metaphysics.
- "Is Bitcoin Money?" (email for draft)
In recent years, there has been significant disagreement among judges, lawmakers, and regulators over whether Bitcoin is money. How do we resolve such real-world disagreements over the monetary status of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies? I explore two different philosophical approaches. The first is a descriptive one. It attempts to answer the question ‘Is Bitcoin money?’ by figuring out what money is. The second is an ameliorative one. It attempts to answer this question by figuring out what our concept of money should be. I argue that the descriptive approach by itself will not adequately resolve the disagreements. As a descriptive matter, there are two kinds of money: de facto money and de jure money. Since Bitcoin is de facto but not de jure money, the descriptive approach leaves us with the question of whether the concept of money in the relevant legal and political contexts should be taken to be that of de facto or de jure money. I propose that this question may be answered using an ameliorative approach. On this approach, we consider which of these two concepts of money would better further our legitimate purposes, chief among these being the promotion of a fair and just society.
- "Money as both Commodity and Credit," in preparation for The Philosophy of Money and Finance, under contract with Oxford University Press, edited by Joakim Sandberg and Lisa Warenski
This paper develops a novel neo-Aristotelian account of money that straddles the commodity theory of money and the credit theory of money. On the proposed account, money is a compound of matter and form, where the matter is usually a commodity and the form is a credit relationship. I argue that this account incorporates the insights of both the commodity theory and the credit theory, while avoiding some of their main drawbacks.
- "Collective Acceptance and Attitudes," in preparation for the Oxford Handbook of Social Ontology, edited by Stephanie Collins, Brian Epstein, Sally Haslanger, and Hans Bernhard Schmid
This chapter examines theories according to which the social world is created through collective attitudes and dispositions, including H.L.A. Hart's account of social rules and John Searle's account of institutional facts.
- “Artworks, Artifacts, and Other Social Kinds,” in preparation for the Routledge Handbook of Essence, edited by Kathrin Koslicki and Michael J. Raven
This chapter surveys debates concerning the essence of artworks, artifacts, and other social kinds.
- Social Objects (book project)
Social ontology has largely focused on investigating the nature of social facts and properties. Yet the social world contains not only social facts and properties, but also social objects such as political borders, nation-states, governments, dollar bills, bitcoins, laws, universities, corporations, and organizations. These objects are puzzling. On the one hand, they seem to be just as real as ordinary objects like trees, rocks, tables, and chairs. They have causal powers, they play an important role in explanation and prediction, and many of them are ‘out there’ in the external world. On the other hand, social objects seem to be products of our collective imagination. Thus, for instance, under appropriate circumstances they can be created and destroyed by agreement, decree, declaration, or the like. Social objects also have other interesting, distinctive features. For example, they can be just or unjust, legitimate or illegitimate. My book aims to develop the first unified and systematic theory of social objects in the philosophical literature, which is able to account for these puzzling and distinctive features of social objects. The book is in three parts. Part 1 argues against eliminativist, reductive materialist, and immaterialist views of social objects. Part 2 develops a novel theory of social objects according to which these objects are essentially normative and response-dependent entities. Part 3 examines the consequences of the theory for the philosophy of social science, and for real-world legal and political disputes.