•  117
    This paper examines Steve Biko’s distinction between black and non-white as a project in the “amelioration” of social concepts and categories. Biko himself—it has been persuasively argued by Mabogo More and Lewis Gordon—writes in the tradition of existential phenomenology. More and Gordon explore Biko’s continuity with Frantz Fanon, and in this paper I draw on their interpretations, attempting to complement and elaborate on these continuities. I also, however, attempt to show how Biko moves beyo…Read more
  •  108
    Anchoring versus Grounding: Reply to Schaffer
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 99 (3): 768-781. 2019.
    In his insightful and challenging paper, Jonathan Schaffer argues against a distinction I make in The Ant Trap (Epstein 2015) and related articles. I argue that in addition to the widely discussed “grounding” relation, there is a different kind of metaphysical determination I name “anchoring.” Grounding and anchoring are distinct, and both need to be a part of full explanations of how facts are metaphysically determined. Schaffer argues instead that anchoring is a species of grounding. The cru…Read more
  •  45
    Collective Responsibility and Social Ontology
    with Mario De Caro and Erin Kelly
    The Monist 102 (2): 131-133. 2019.
    The study of responsibility in ethics focuses on the nature of agency, accountability, blame, punishment and, crucially, the distribution of responsibility for complex ethical problems. Work in social ontology examines the nature of entities such as groups, organizations, corporations, and institutions, and what it is for these entities to have intentional states and to act. Until recently, these fields of research have mostly been treated separately. The goal of this issue is to examine emergin…Read more
  •  71
    Replies to Hawley, Mikkola, and Hindriks
    Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (2): 230-246. 2019.
  •  271
    Social Ontology
    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2018.
    Social ontology is the study of the nature and properties of the social world. It is concerned with analyzing the various entities in the world that arise from social interaction. A prominent topic in social ontology is the analysis of social groups. Do social groups exist at all? If so, what sorts of entities are they, and how are they created? Is a social group distinct from the collection of people who are its members, and if so, how is it different? What sorts of properties do social groups …Read more
  •  51
    Précis of The Ant Trap
    Journal of Social Ontology 2 (1): 125-134. 2016.
    This article summarizes The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences. The book develops a new model for social ontology, applies it to groups and collective intentionality, and criticizes various forms of individualism. Part One of the book presents two traditional approaches to social ontology and unifies them into the “grounding–anchoring model” for the building of the social world. Part Two shows that individualism is mistaken even for basic facts about groups of people, ch…Read more
  •  17
    Replies to Guala and Gallotti
    Journal of Social Ontology 2 (1): 159-172. 2016.
    This article responds to comments by Francesco Guala and Mattia Gallotti on The Ant Trap. In the replies, I address the relation of new advances in cognitive science to the study of collective attitudes, clarify distinct questions we might ask about grounding and about anchoring in social ontology, defend various forms of pluralism about grounds and about anchors, and discuss the type-token distinction as it applies to social entities.
  •  59
    When can macroscopic data about a system be used to set parameters in a microfoundational simulation? We examine the epistemic viability of tweaking parameter values to generate a better fit between the outcome of a simulation and the available observational data. We restrict our focus to microfoundational simulations—those simulations that attempt to replicate the macrobehavior of a target system by modeling interactions between microentities. We argue that tweaking can be effective but that th…Read more
  •  237
    Review of Creations of the Mind, ed. Margolis and Laurence (review)
    Mind 121 (481): 200-204. 2012.
    This fascinating collection on artifacts brings together seven papers by philosophers with nine by psychologists, biologists, and an archaeologist. The psychological papers include two excellent discussions of empirical work on the mental representation of artifact concepts – an assessment by Malt and Sloman of a large variety of studies on the conflicting ways we classify artifacts and extend our applications of artifact categories to new cases, and a review by Mahon and Caramazza of data from …Read more
  •  572
    Agent-based modeling and the fallacies of individualism
    In Paul Humphreys & Cyrille Imbert (eds.), Models, Simulations, and Representations, Routledge. pp. 115444. 2011.
    Agent-​​based modeling is showing great promise in the social sciences. However, two misconceptions about the relation between social macroproperties and microproperties afflict agent-based models. These lead current models to systematically ignore factors relevant to the properties they intend to model, and to overlook a wide range of model designs. Correcting for these brings painful trade-​​offs, but has the potential to transform the utility of such models.
  •  257
    When local models fail
    Philosophy of the Social Sciences 38 (1): 3-24. 2008.
    Models treating the simple properties of social groups have a common shortcoming. Typically, they focus on the local properties of group members and the features of the world with which group members interact. I consider economic models of bureaucratic corruption, to show that (a) simple properties of groups are often constituted by the properties of the wider population, and (b) even sophisticated models are commonly inadequate to account for many simple social properties. Adequate models and s…Read more
  •  966
    We live in a world of crowds and corporations, artworks and artifacts, legislatures and languages, money and markets. These are all social objects — they are made, at least in part, by people and by communities. But what exactly are these things? How are they made, and what is the role of people in making them? In The Ant Trap, Brian Epstein rewrites our understanding of the nature of the social world and the foundations of the social sciences. Epstein explains and challenges the three prevaili…Read more
  •  8
    No Title available: Reviews
    Economics and Philosophy 28 (3): 428-435. 2012.
    Book Reviews Brian Epstein, Economics and Philosophy, FirstView Article
  •  373
    The realpolitik of reference
    Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 89 (1). 2008.
    What are the conditions for fixing the reference of a proper name? Debate on this point has recently been rekindled by Scott Soames, Robin Jeshion, and others. In this paper, I sketch a new pragmatic approach to the justification of reference-fixing procedures, in opposition to accounts that insist on an invariant set of conditions for fixing reference across environments and linguistic communities. Comparing reference to other relations whose instances are introduced through "initiation" proced…Read more
  •  412
    Sortals and criteria of identity
    Analysis 72 (3): 474-478. 2012.
    In a recent article, Harold Noonan argues that application conditions and criteria of identity are not distinct from one another. This seems to threaten the standard approach to distinguishing sortals from adjectival terms. I propose that his observation, while correct, does not have this consequence. I present a simple scheme for distinguishing sortals from adjectival terms. I also propose an amended version of the standard canonical form of criteria of identity
  •  245
    Grounds, Convention, and the Metaphysics of Linguistic Tokens
    Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (1): 45-67. 2009.
    My aim in this paper is to discuss a metaphysical framework within which to understand “standard linguistic entities” (SLEs), such as words, sentences, phonemes, and other entities routinely employed in linguistic theory. In doing so, I aim to defuse certain kinds of skepticism, challenge convention-based accounts of SLEs, and present a series of distinctions for better understanding what the various accounts of SLEs do and do not accomplish
  •  402
    Why macroeconomics does not supervene on microeconomics
    Journal of Economic Methodology 21 (1): 3-18. 2014.
    In recent years, the project of providing microeconomic foundations for macroeconomics has taken on new urgency. Some philosophers and economists have challenged the project, both for the way economists actually approach microfoundations and for more general anti-reductionist reasons. Reductionists and anti-reductionists alike, however, have taken it to be trivial that the macroeconomic facts are exhaustively determined by microeconomic ones. In this paper, I challenge this supposed triviality. …Read more
  •  287
    The Diviner and the Scientist: Revisiting the Question of Alternative Standards of Rationality
    Journal of the American Academy of Religion 78 (4): 1048-1086. 2010.
    Are the standards of reasoning and rationality in divination, religious practice, and textual exegesis different from those in the sciences? Can there be different standards of reasoning and rationality at all? The intense “rationality debate” of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s focused on these questions and the related problems of relativism across cultures and systems of practice. Although philosophers were at the center of these debates at the time, they may appear to have abandoned the question i…Read more
  •  714
    Ontological individualism reconsidered
    Synthese 166 (1): 187-213. 2009.
    The thesis of methodological individualism in social science is commonly divided into two different claims—explanatory individualism and ontological individualism. Ontological individualism is the thesis that facts about individuals exhaustively determine social facts. Initially taken to be a claim about the identity of groups with sets of individuals or their properties, ontological individualism has more recently been understood as a global supervenience claim. While explanatory individualism …Read more
  •  471
    This paper presents a systematic approach for analyzing and explaining the nature of social groups. I argue against prominent views that attempt to unify all social groups or to divide them into simple typologies. Instead I argue that social groups are enormously diverse, but show how we can investigate their natures nonetheless. I analyze social groups from a bottom-up perspective, constructing profiles of the metaphysical features of groups of specific kinds. We can characterize any given kind…Read more
  •  560
    Social Objects Without Intentions
    In Anita Konzelmann Ziv & Hans Bernhard Schmid (eds.), Institutions, Emotions, and Group Agents: Contributions to Social Ontology, . pp. 53-68. 2013.
    It is often seen as a truism that social objects and facts are the product of human intentions. I argue that the role of intentions in social ontology is commonly overestimated. I introduce a distinction that is implicit in much discussion of social ontology, but is often overlooked: between a social entity’s “grounds” and its “anchors.” For both, I argue that intentions, either individual or collective, are less essential than many theorists have assumed. Instead, I propose a more worldly –…Read more
  •  314
    History and the critique of social concepts
    Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40 (1): 3-29. 2010.
    Many theorists, including Nietzsche, Adorno, and Foucault, have regarded genealogy as an important technique for social criticism. But it has been unclear how genealogy can go beyond the accomplishments of other, more mundane, critical methods. I propose a new approach to understanding the critical potential of history. I argue that theorists have been misled by the assumption that if a claim is deserving of criticism, it is because the claim is false. Turning to the criticism of concepts rather…Read more
  •  252
    The Internal and the External in Linguistic Explanation
    Croatian Journal of Philosophy 8 (22): 77-111. 2008.
    Chomsky and others have denied the relevance of external linguistic entities, such as E-languages, to linguistic explanation, and have questioned their coherence altogether. I discuss a new approach to understanding the nature of linguistic entities, focusing in particular on making sense of the varieties of kinds of “words” that are employed in linguistic theorizing. This treatment of linguistic entities in general is applied to constructing an understanding of external linguistic entities.
  •  187
    Review of Millikan, Ruth Garrett, Language: A Biological Model (review)
    Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2006 (5). 2006.
    Ruth Mil­likan is one of the most inter­est­ing and influ­en­tial philoso­phers alive. Her work is also hard to pen­e­trate. In this review, I try to present and assess her work on the nature of lan­guage, which is col­lected in this anthol­ogy. I also crit­i­cize her analy­sis of “nat­ural con­ven­tion” as well as her dis­cus­sion of illo­cu­tion­ary acts.
  •  130
    A Framework for Social Ontology
    Philosophy of the Social Sciences 46 (2): 147-167. 2016.
    This paper sets out an organizing framework for the field of social ontology, the study of the nature of the social world. The subject matter of social ontology is clarified, in particular the difference between it and the study of causal relations and the explanation of social phenomena. Two different inquiries are defined and explained: the study of the grounding of social facts, and the study of how social categories are “anchored” or set up. The distinction between these inquiries is used to…Read more
  •  1028
    Individualists about social ontology hold that social facts are “built out of” facts about individuals. In this paper, I argue that there are two distinct kinds of individualism about social ontology, two different ways individual people might be the metaphysical “builders” of the social world. The familiar kind is ontological individualism. This is the thesis that social facts supervene on, or are exhaustively grounded by, facts about individual people. What I call anchor individualism is the a…Read more
  • It seems to be a fact about language that people carry on competent and intelligent conversations, day to day, without being able to explain the words they're using. People don't have definitions, even tacit ones, for their words. This is possible in part because language users live in a social network, relying on one another as well as the structure of the world, which takes the burden of definition off the shoulders of the ordinary language user. ;Still, even simple words in fact stand for ext…Read more
  •  663
    In recent years, theorists have debated how we introduce new social objects and kinds into the world. Searle, for instance, proposes that they are introduced by collective acceptance of a constitutive rule; Millikan and Elder that they are the products of reproduction processes; Thomasson that they result from creator intentions and subsequent intentional reproduction; and so on. In this chapter, I argue against the idea that there is a single generic method or set of requirements for doing so. …Read more