Conference’s Project

Our lives are oriented not only around natural, but also social entities: Institutions, marriages, firms, classes, genders, races, and so on. The social sciences investigate how all these interact with each other and with individual people. Political struggles generally aim at transforming these social entities: What rules should govern a fair society? What are the legitimate constitutive parts of a marriage? How should different contributions to a firm be differentially compensated?

Despite their centrality to our ordinary, scientific, and political lives, social entities remain metaphysically mysterious. How to locate these entities and their properties within the natural world ? Should they be eliminated, reduced or regarded as primitive?

Social ontology is now a rapidly growing field of investigation, attracting the attention of more and more metaphysicians with very different approaches. To build a good social ontology, some authors think it suffices to rely on the standard tools of analytical philosophy: conceptual analysis, intuition, thought experiments, formalization, grounding. Others contend that social ontology should follow the social sciences.  Still others argue that social ontology is a form of descriptive metaphysics or, alternately, that the specificity of social entities requires an “ameliorative conceptual analysis”. This increasing diversity of approaches raises a concern: if we cannot agree on how even to practice social ontology, our current efforts will be at cross-purposes.

Following Ross and Ladyman’s vigorous attack on traditional metaphysics in favor of a scientific metaphysics, meta-metaphysics itself has become a lively field of philosophical debate. How should a specifically scientific metaphysics be pursued? Should it guide science or should science guide metaphysics? One great lesson from the discussion so far is that the field of possibilities exceeds these two alternatives. Many ways of articulating science and metaphysics have been proposed: Among others, neo-positivist metaphysics, metaphysics as modeling, moderately naturalized metaphysics, and metaphysics as a kind of toolbox. The meta-metaphysical value of grounding theory is the topic of much discussion, but also the relation of metaphysical inquiry to common sense and religious beliefs.

In short, it seems now both urgent and possible to discuss the ways meta-metaphysics can be applied to social ontology in order to help it to produce philosophically, scientifically and politically better results. That exploration is what this conference issue will offer.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search