Two major questions have dominated work on the metaphysics of social groups: first, Are there any? And second, What are they? I will begin by arguing that the answer to the ontological question is an easy and obvious ‘yes’. We do better to turn our efforts elsewhere, addressing the question: “What are social groups?” One might worry, however, about this question on grounds that the general term ‘social group’ seems like a term of art—not a well-used concept we can analyze, or can presuppose corresponds to a real kind we can investigate. But while the general notion of ‘social group’ may be a term of art, our terms for clubs and courts, races and genders, are not. It is worth stepping back to ask what function these social group concepts serve. I will argue that individual social group concepts function to give normative structure to our lives together. Paying attention to the role of norms in social groups, I will argue, can enable us to provide a unified understanding of the importance of core social groups, while still respecting the great differences among social groups of different kinds.
KeywordsSocial group Social ontology Race Gender Social institutions Social construction
Many thanks to audiences at conferences in Southampton (2016) and Gothenburg (2015), as well as to two anonymous referees, for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.
- Bicchieri, C. (2006). The grammar of society: The nature and dynamics of social norms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Bicchieri, C., & Muldoon, R. (2014). Social norms. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Spring 2014 edition). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/social-norms/.
- Gilbert, M. (1989). On social facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Heidegger, M. (1927/1962). Being and time (J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, Trans.). New York: Harper and Rowe.Google Scholar
- Lance, M. N., & O’Leary-Hawthorne, J. (1997). The grammar of meaning: normativity and semantic discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Lance, M. N., & Tanesini, A. (2000). Identity judgments, queer politics. Radical Philosophy, 100, 42–51.Google Scholar
- List, C., & Pettit, P. (2010). Group agency: The possibility, design and status of corporate agents. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Ritchie, K. (forthcoming). Social creationism and social groups.Google Scholar
- Searle, J. (1995). The construction of social reality. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
- Thomasson, A. L. (2009). Answerable and unanswerable questions. In D. Chalmers, D. Manley, & R. Wasserman (Eds.), Metametaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Thomasson, A. L. (2015). Ontology made easy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar