Call for papers Synthese Topical Issue

The meta-metaphysics of social ontology

Guest-Editors: Esa Diaz-Leon, Francesco Guala, Harold Kincaid, Raphaël Künstler

Our lives are oriented not only towards 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. What are their fundamental constituents? Are social entities sui generis? 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 be informed by the social sciences.  Still others argue that social ontology is a form of descriptive metaphysics, while others believe, 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. 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 normative (including 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.

Appropriate topics for submission include, among others:

  • Do current meta-metaphysical debates apply to social ontology? If yes, how? If no, why?
  • What are the various kinds of social ontologies on offer?
  • What is the relation between social ontology and the social sciences? Can social ontology help the social sciences to overcome their disagreements? Should social ontology be naturalized? If yes, how should this naturalization be conceived?
  • Are descriptive social ontology and descriptive natural ontology methodologically identical? Can a social ontology be revisionist? If yes, what is the relation between descriptive and revisionist social ontologies?
  • What is the relation between social ontology and political struggle?
  • Can the conceptual and formal tools (supervenience, grounding, etc.) used in the philosophy of nature or in the philosophy of mind be applied also to social ontology?
  • What meta-metaphysical lessons could be drawn from the history of social ontology and the social sciences?
  • Many debates in social ontology, such as questions about the nature of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, and so on, are politically significant precisely because these human traits are the target of discrimination. Is this normative dimension of social ontology relevant with regards to questions about the meta-metaphysics of social ontology?

Deadline: 4 April 2022

Manuscripts should be submitted via Synthese Editorial Manager: between December 1, 2021, and April 4, 2022.

For further information, please contact Raphaël Künstler

raphael.kunstler [at]

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