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Précis of The Ant Trap
Social Ontology
The article summarizes The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences. The book develops a new model for social ontology, applies it to groups and collective intentionality, and criticizes various forms of individualism.
Replies to Guala and Gallotti
Social Ontology
This article replies to comments by Francesco Guala and Mattia Gallotti on The Ant Trap. In the replies, I address the relation of new advances in cognitive science to the study of collective attitudes, clarify distinct questions we might ask about grounding and about anchoring in social ontology, defend various forms of pluralism about grounds and about anchors, and discuss the type-token distinction as it applies to social entities.
A Framework for Social Ontology
This paper sets out an organizing framework for the field of social ontology—the study of the nature of the social world. I define and explain two different inquiries: the study of the grounding of social facts, and the study of how social categories are “anchored” or set up. With this distinction, we can clarify prominent programs in social theory, particularly theories of practice and varieties of individualism. (Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 2016)
How Many Kinds of Glue Hold the Social World Together?
Social Ontology
In this chapter, I argue against the idea that there is a single generic method or set of requirements for generating social kinds. Instead, there is a variety of what I call “anchoring schemas.” Not only are social kinds a diverse lot, but the metaphysical explanation for their being the kinds they are is diverse as well. I explain the idea of anchoring and present examples of social kinds that are similar to one another but that are anchored in different ways. (in Social Ontology and Social Cognition, 2015)
What is Individualism in Social Ontology? Ontological Individualism vs. Anchor Individualism
Social Ontology
Individualists about social ontology hold that social facts are “built out of” facts about individuals. In this paper, I argue that there are two distinct kinds of individualism about social ontology, two different ways individual people might be the metaphysical “builders” of the social world. Anchor individualism is often conflated with ontological individualism. But in fact, the two theses are in tension with one another: if one of these kinds of individualism is true, then the other is very unlikely to be. My aim in this paper is to clarify both, and argue that they should be sharply distinguished from one another. (in Rethinking the Individualism/Holism Debate, 2014)
The Realpolitik of Reference
Language & Metaphysics
How do we fix the reference of a proper name? More importantly, why is that the way we fix reference? I sketch a new pragmatic approach to the justification of reference-fixing procedures. Comparing reference to other relations whose instances are introduced through "initiation" procedures, I outline a picture in which the procedures that are successful for fixing the reference of proper names depend in part on regularities in the actual environment. (Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 2008)
New York Times piece: What Alabama’s Roy Moore Got Right
Cultural Theory, Social Ontology
This piece for The Stone argues that we as a society are already well underway in redefining marriage. Conservatives often use the terminology "redefining marriage" as political code. The piece argues for a sociological view of the institution of marriage. The courts do not have the power to define institutions, since they are only partly affected by legal doctrines. More important are the social practices that create the institution. Fortunately, we already have changed many of our social practices regarding same-sex marriage. We as a society have already redefined marriage, for the better. (New York Times, Feb. 16, 2015)
The Perils of Tweaking: How to Use Macrodata to Set Parameters in Complex Simulation Models
Methods of Social Science
When can modelers tune their models, after the fact? We argue that "tweaking" a simulation can be effective but that there are two central risks. First, it risks overfitting the simulation to the data and thus compromising predictive accuracy; and second, it risks compromising the microfoundationality of the simulation. We evaluate standard responses to tweaking and propose strategies to guard against these risks. (Synthese, 2012)
Sortals and Criteria of Identity
Language & Metaphysics
In a recent article, Harold Noonan argues that application conditions and criteria of identity are not distinct from one another. This seems to threaten the standard approach to distinguishing sortals from adjectival terms. I propose that his observation, while correct, does not have this consequence. I present a simple scheme for distinguishing sortals from adjectival terms. I also propose an amended version of the standard canonical form of criteria of identity. (Analysis, 2012)
History and the Critique of Social Concepts
Cultural Theory
Many theorists, including Nietzsche, Adorno, and Foucault, have regarded genealogy as an important technique for social criticism. But it has been unclear how genealogy can go beyond the accomplishments of other, more mundane, critical methods. I propose a new approach to understanding the critical potential of history. (Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 2010)
The Diviner and the Scientist: Revisiting the Question of Alternative Standards of Rationality
Cultural Theory
Do people in other cultures have different “standards of rationality”? Are the standards of reasoning and rationality in divination, religious practice, and textual exegesis different from those in the sciences? I discuss recent developments in philosophy that approach the issue from a number of new directions, changing our understanding of reasoning and rationality. I argue that a careful treatment of rationality points the way forward to investigating modest but interesting ways for there to be alternative standards of rationality. (Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2010)
When Local Models Fail
Methods of Social Science
A paper on some implications of new work on the nature of groups, for modeling in the social sciences. Here I focus on economic models of corruption. (Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 2008)
Why Macroeconomics does not Supervene on Microeconomics
Methods of Social Science
Reductionists and anti-reductionists alike have taken it to be trivial that the macroeconomic facts are exhaustively determined by microeconomic ones. In this paper, I challenge this supposed triviality. I argue that macroeconomic properties do not even globally supervene on microeconomic ones. This means that microeconomics-based foundations for macroeconomics are inadequate in principle. (Journal of Economic Methodology, 2014)
Ontological Individualism Reconsidered
Social Ontology
Ontological individualism is the thesis that facts about individuals exhaustively determine social facts. Ontological individualism has more recently been understood as a global supervenience claim, and is almost universally accepted. In this paper I argue that ontological individualism is false. I explore why it is that people have taken ontological individualism to be true. (Synthese, 2009)
Agent-Based Models and the Fallacies of Individualism
Methods of Social Science
A critical look at agent-​​based modeling in the social sciences. Two misconceptions about the relation between social macroproperties and microproperties afflict agent-based models. These lead current models to systematically ignore factors relevant to the properties they intend to model, and to overlook a wide range of model designs. Correcting for these brings painful trade-​​offs, but has the potential to transform the utility of such models. (in Models, Simulations, and Representations, 2011)
Social Objects without Intentions
Social Ontology
Argues against a "mentalistic" picture of the social world. It is often seen as a truism that social objects and facts are the product of human intentions. I argue that the role of intentions in social ontology is commonly overestimated. I propose a more worldly – and less intellectualist – approach to social ontology. (in Institutions, Emotions, and Group Agents, 2013)
Grounds, Convention, and the Metaphysics of Linguistic Tokens
Language & Metaphysics
My aim in this paper is to discuss a metaphysical framework within which to understand “standard linguistic entities” (SLEs), such as words, sentences, phonemes, and other entities routinely employed in linguistic theory. In doing so, I aim to defuse certain kinds of skepticism, challenge convention-based accounts of SLEs, and present a series of distinctions for better understanding what the various accounts of SLEs do and do not accomplish. (CJP, 2009)
The Internal and the External in Linguistic Explanation
Language & Metaphysics
I develop a functional theory of linguistic entities. Chomsky and others have denied the relevance of external linguistic entities, such as E-languages, to linguistic explanation, and have questioned their coherence altogether. I discuss a new approach to understanding the nature of linguistic entities, focusing in particular on making sense of the varieties of kinds of “words” that are employed in linguistic theorizing. This treatment of linguistic entities in general is applied to constructing an understanding of external linguistic entities. (CJP, 2008)
Review of Creations of the Mind, edited by Margolis and Laurence
Social Ontology
This is a review of a collection of papers on artifacts, edited by Eric Margolis and Stephen Laurence. Although I’ve thought a lot about artifacts — objects like screwdrivers, chairs, and dollar bills — I haven’t written much about them directly. This review was a chance to talk about some interesting new papers, and suggest where some current thinking falls short. (Mind, 2012)
Review of The SAGE Handbook of the Philosophy of Social Sciences, ed. by Jarvie and Zamorra-Bonilla
Social Ontology
This interesting (and massive!) handbook is edited by Ian Jarvie, who also serves as editor of the journal Philosophy of the Social Sciences, and Jesús Zamora-​​Bonilla, philosopher of science at the National Open University of Spain. It has papers on the history of the philosophy of social sciences, social ontology, paradigms in the philosophy of social science, and methodologies. (Economics and Philosophy, 2012)
Review of Language: A Biological Model by Ruth Millikan
Language & Metaphysics
Ruth Millikan is one of the most interesting and influential philosophers alive. Her work is also hard to penetrate. In this review, I try to present and assess her work on the nature of language, which is collected in this anthology. I also criticize her analysis of “natural convention” as well as her discussion of illocutionary acts. (NDPR, 2006)