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Social metaphysics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N135-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Social metaphysics concerns the existence and nature of social entities. Social metaphysicians have focused primarily on the existence and nature of three ontological categories: social facts (e.g. the fact that pieces of paper are money), social kinds (e.g. races and genders) and social groups (e.g. the United Nations Security Council).

Social facts (e.g. the fact that bills issued by the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing are money) are understood to be worldly rather than representational entities. According to one family of views, all social facts obtain in virtue of facts involving collective intentionality. There are a wide variety of theories of collective intentions; however, the basic idea is that social facts are such that their existence depends on the mental states of more than one individual.

A perennial question concerning the metaphysics of social kinds is whether they are natural kinds. Very roughly, natural kinds are those kinds that feature in scientific explanations of the world. Some philosophers deny that social kinds are natural kinds because the former are mind-dependent whereas the latter are not. Others deny that social kinds are natural, because they are susceptible to ‘looping effects’. Still others argue that social kinds can be natural kinds despite these apparently disqualifying features.

Another key question about social kinds concerns their existence or reality – in particular, the existence or reality of particular social kinds, like genders (e.g. women and men) and races (e.g. Black, white). Some philosophers argue that races are biological kinds, and that biological races exist. Others argue that races are biological kinds, but that biological races do not exist. Social constructionists about race argue that races exist but are social in nature. Another view is that races exist but are neither social nor biological.

Finally, although it is common ground that many social groups exist, philosophers disagree about their nature. One proposal is that social groups are sets of their members; another is that they are identical to sets of worlds, times and individuals. Others argue that social groups are sui generis entities, or that they are structured wholes.

Citing this article:
Mason, Rebecca. Social metaphysics, 2018, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N135-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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