Teaching this Term: 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 academia.edu page.

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


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”

Quote of the Week: Jeffrey on Desirability

“It my indeed by that I desire something, and later, when I have it, find it not as good as I had thought. This is a case where my judgement of desirability have changed as a result of experience.”  – Richard Jeffrey. The Logic of Decision. p. 63

I am currently rereading Richard Jeffrey’s classic The Logic of Decision to refresh my knowledge of decision theoy and this passage caught my eye. It occurs in a discussion of whether we can desire something we have (or believe to have) and amounts to little more than an aside. For a quote of the week it might seem less than exciting, but it surprised and excited me.

The formulation is not entirely clear, but Jeffrey appears to suggest that a desire is a judgement that something is desirable. The goodness of the thing appears to come first. We learn it through experience and adapt or at least should adapt our desires to it. Our judgements of desirability are proven wrong, if things are less good than we thought. It is not just that we found out that we have different desires than we thought, rather our judgements of desirability are proven wrong by experience.

This picture conflict with the kind of non-cognitive Humeanism I would have assumed to find in a book on decision theory. I would have assumed that Jeffrey presents desires not as a form of judgement and that the goodness of objects would not guide the desires. Desires would be practical states conferring the desirabaility to objects. Instead I found this surprising quote, which reminds me more Elijah Millgram’s work on practical reasoning.

Sadly, I am still catching up on decision theory and lack acquaintance with Jeffrey’s later work. I do not know yet whether this quote conflicts with Jeffrey’s other contributions or whether it fits in.