Published and Forthcoming
- "Social Objects, Response-Dependence, and Realism," forthcoming in Journal of the American Philosophical Association
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.
- "Social Entities," forthcoming in Routledge Handbook of Metaphysical Grounding, ed. Michael Raven
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.
- "Norm and Object: A Normative Hylomorphic Theory of Social Objects" (under review; email for draft)
This paper articulates a metaphysical puzzle concerning social objects of a seemingly concrete character, and then develops a novel account of these objects that provides a satisfying solution to the puzzle. The basic idea behind the puzzle is that social objects such as political borders, states, and organizations 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 core idea of the positive account is that seemingly concrete social objects have both normative and material components. I develop this idea more rigorously within a hylomorphic framework, on which the material components correspond to the object’s matter, and the normative components inhere in the object’s form. This normative hylomorphic account, I argue, solves the puzzle by providing a satisfying explanation of “creation by agreement,” drawing on the phenomenon of normative powers.
- "Is Bitcoin Money?" (in preparation for the Journal of Social Ontology; email for draft)
In recent years there has been disagreement amongst lawmakers, judges, and regulators over whether Bitcoin is money. For instance, a federal U.S. judge ruled in 2014 that federal money laundering statutes apply to Bitcoin, whereas the IRS announced that same year that it would treat Bitcoin as property rather than currency for tax purposes. How do we resolve these disagreements? I explore two different philosophical approaches. The first is a descriptive metaphysical one. It attempts to answer the question “Is Bitcoin money?” by figuring out what money is. The second is an ameliorative political one, familiar from recent discussions in the philosophy of gender. It attempts to answer the 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; and so we need to also pursue the ameliorative approach.
- Social Objects (book manuscript)
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 non-reductive materialist view of social objects, on which social objects are essentially normative and response-dependent entities. Part 3 examines the consequences of this view for the philosophy of social science, and for real-world legal and political disputes.
- "Social Essences"
This paper aims to revive essence as a respectable and useful notion for social metaphysics. I argue that social entities have essences, and I examine some applications of the essentialist framework to projects in social ontology and feminist metaphysics.
- "Is Social Construction Grounding?"
It has been suggested recently that social construction can be analyzed in terms of metaphysical grounding. I argue that an adequate account of social construction cannot be developed in terms of grounding alone.