My 2017 Book List

I won’t even attempt to feign the impression that I’m keeping up with what has been published in 2017, instead you find here a list of book which I have read this year and which influenced my thinking: Continue reading “My 2017 Book List”

Seminar Handouts

As part of the course I’m co-teaching with James Lewis I have produced seminar handouts, which cover the topics of the respective weeks. In the present post, I want to reflect on this teaching tool.

The handouts only provide the shortest of introduction to the week’s topic and then raises a number of questions we can address in the seminar (see the example handout). They don’t summarise the lectures, but rather hint at the most important issues by raising questions about them. Usually there is also one quote, or one central picture intended to remind the student of a key insight from the lectures. For example, on the group agency handout I provide a quote from List and Pettit specifying the necessary and jointly sufficient features for agency. Continue reading “Seminar Handouts”


Teaching Autum Term 2017: I, You, We

I’m co-teaching a module at the University of Sheffield this term (Autumn 2017-2018) together with James Lewis. We called our course I, You, We and treat broadly the philosophy of the social. James focusses on second-person relations and I present key issues in social ontology. In particular, I consider the debates on joint actions, group agency, group ontology, and Brian Epstein’s recent contribution. James and I will also have week on feminist contributions.

The syllabus of the module is available on my page.

Relevant blog posts for my students and others interested in social ontology:

Upcoming Talk at ENPOSS

I’ll admit it upfront, I’m joining the illustrous club of academics who present on the same topic twice in a row. Attendees of the ENPOSS conference in Cracow can look forward to a talk revealing the weakness of attempts to analyse group membership as mereological parthood. In particular, I look at nested groups just as I did at the ENSO V. However, I promise that the audience will hear new material. I got feedback at the ENSO conference and will try to address it in my talk (although I will have only so much time to respond to potential criticisms).

I talk on Thursday 21st of September (see program).

Am I a Group Agent?

Presumably not, but maybe it’s more difficult to tell than it seems.

Kirk Ludwig attended my recent talk at the ENSO V conference and raised an interesting issue during the Q&A. I argued against analysing being a group member as being a part of a group (plus a restriction to individuals). He suggested that there is an easier argument against analysing group membership as such a restricted parthood: Even if I had a part who was an agent, I would not be a group agent. Say it turned out that one of my body parts was an agent, this body part would not be a member of me and I would not be a group. At least that is what Ludwig proposed.

I tentatively replied that perhaps one might consider the body part a member after all and I might turn out to be a group, but Ludwig wasn’t swayed by my bold assertion and we left it there. After all, his point wasn’t threatening my argument. It only provided further support for my overall conclusion. Nonetheless, I keep thinking about Ludwig’s argument and I’m not sure I agree with him. Continue reading “Am I a Group Agent?”

Reminder: Upcoming Talk on Nested Groups

I’m going to give a talk about nested groups at the ENSO V at Lund next Thursday. (See previous post and official conference website.)

The topic of my paper changed less than papers you submit half a year in advance tend to do. I’ll discuss how cases of nested groups, such as a philosophy department being nested in a university, bear on our ontology of groups.

Mereology plays a bigger role than in my original draft. My talk has significant repercussions for how can think about the members and parts of groups. For more details, attend my talk! (Or drop me a line and I’ll share a draft with you.)

Gilbert’s Contribution to Group Ontology

Margaret Gilbert’s “Walking Together: A Paradigmatic Social Phenomenon” is a seminal paper in the analytic debate on joint action. On 14 pages it summarises what Gilbert considered the most important insights from her book On Social Facts.

The paper has earned its position in the literature. It was a path-breaking contribution and remains worth reading more than two decades after publication. But to all students out there: Do not start your papers like that! First Gilbert presents her paper as a contribution to the philosophy of the social sciences, then she frames it as an analysis of groups, before she turns to a rather special case of joint action. In other words, Gilbert first asks a question about the social sciences, then switches to a question about social groups in general, to then actually discuss a special case of social groups: The group of two people walking together. Continue reading “Gilbert’s Contribution to Group Ontology”

Necessary Group Members, Group Size, and Intuitions about Social Ontology

I am still thinking about the group membership relation (for more on the topic see here and here). Today I wondered about the following question: Do some groups have essential members? I do not want to get into a debate about essentiality, so I instead turn to the simpler question: Are there groups which have a member in all possible worlds in which the group exists? In the following, I always mean the property of having the same member across all possible worlds, when I say that a member is essential. Microsoft or the group of males continue to exist even if all their members change, but does this hold for all groups?

Expect no final answer to that question in this post. Instead I want to note that our intuitions vary with group size, or at least mine do. (In case you do not like the talk of intuitions, read “pre-reflective judgements” instead.) The two of us go for a walk together and thereby form a group. My intuition is that this would not be the same group if either of us was replaced. On the other hand, if a group of twohundred went for a walk, I would maintain that it remains the same group if you exchange any of the members. I would even intuitively judge that if you replace a hundred of the twohundred members, it remains the same group. My intuitions do not concern the proporation, but about the absolut numbers. (Any experimental philosopher out there wanting to test the universality of this intuition with me?) Continue reading “Necessary Group Members, Group Size, and Intuitions about Social Ontology”