, Volume 196, Issue 12, pp 4829–4845 | Cite as

The ontology of social groups

  • Amie L. ThomassonEmail author
S.I.: Groups


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.


Social 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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

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