Reading: Arlie Hochschild “Strangers in Their Own Land”

It took me a while, but I finally found the time to read Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land.  The book addresses burning questions: How came the USA to be so politically divided? How does the other side relative to Hochschild, that is the right-wing tea-party, see the divide? How do emotions influence the political allegiances?

But being a philosopher I want to discuss the methodology and underlying theory of the book instead of those juicy topics. I hope that this discussion is at least as interesting. In fact, the philosophical aspect might be of more lasting interest. The political landscape of the US will shift sooner or later, while the insights for sociological theory might stay with us for a long time. And at the end of this post, politics creeps in after all. Continue reading “Reading: Arlie Hochschild “Strangers in Their Own Land””

How Many Concepts of Preference Are There?

It has been recently suggested to me that there might be a difference between the philosophical concept “preference” and social science concept “preference”. Since I am working in philosophy of the social science, getting such a distinction clear would be important for me. Given my area of work , I am especially in danger of mixing them up.

But I am not entirely convinced that there is such a distinction in the first place. In my notes I mainly distinguish a behaviourist-constructivist concept of preferences from mentalist-realist one. The distinction follows basically the 2016 paper by List and Dietrich, in which they argue for the mentalist-realist concept. You can very the exact formulations of these analyses, but the difference between the two concepts should be clear enough.

According to the behaviourist-constructivist approach preferences are nothing but logical constructions out of choice behavior. Preferences turn out to be mere re-descriptions of choice behaviour. If you always choose the orange over the apple, then this implies that you prefer oranges over apples. Many economists  apparently endorse such a concept of preferences, and so does Simon Blackburn in Ruling Passions. Therefore, the concept is used by social scientists and philosophers. One might argue that Blackburn only intends to reconstruct what social scientists are saying, but reading his text I get very much the impression that he buys into it. (On page 167 he notes that he would prefer to use the word “concern” rather than “preference”. He apparently endorses the concept, and only objects to the hedonist connotations associated with the word.)

On the mentalist-realist account preferences are real mental entities with causal efficacy. If you always choose the orange over the apple, this is evidence that you prefer oranges over apples, but it does not imply it. As soon as one endorses the mentalist position a myriad of questions arise within the ontology of mind. How are preferences realised? How can mental entities be efficacious at all? I am not going to say anything on these issues here and only note that List and Dietrich argued forcefully that the social sciences, and in particular economics, need such a mentalist concept of preferences for their explanatory purposes. Continue reading “How Many Concepts of Preference Are There?”

Published: Gruppen als Akteure

An essay of mine on group agency has been published on Soziopolis. Soziopolis is a platform for sociologists and other social scientists maintained by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. My essay tries to convey the relevant implications of theories of groups agency, especially the proposal by List and Pettit, for the social sciences.

The essay is in German, which limits its readership on the one hand, but on the other hand the analytic debate on group agency has received less attention there so far. I hope I can contribute to changing this.

The first paragraph:

Die Beschäftigung mit Fragen des Gruppenhandelns – etwa danach, ob Organisationen zielorientiert handeln, Klassen genuine gesellschaftliche Akteure sind oder Staaten Handlungsfähigkeit besitzen – hat in der Soziologie eine lange Tradition. Dabei ist jedoch umstritten, ob Gruppen als irreduzible Akteure tatsächlich dasselbe Gewicht für soziologische Erklärungen haben wie Individuen, insbesondere, ob Gruppen dieselbe irreduzible kausale Rolle einnehmen. Können die Handlungen von Gruppen also Tatsachen kausal erklären, ohne dass eine individualistische Reduktion auch nur im Prinzip möglich wäre?

More here.

Visit to Hamburg

I am currently in Hamburg for an internship – or more exactly a Research Employability Project – at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research (HIS). My main role here is to support the editorial team at the HIS which publishes the Mittelweg 36 journal and maintains the Soziopolis platform. Continue reading “Visit to Hamburg”

Reading List: Analytic Metaphysics for Sociologists

When one tries to seriously work interdisciplinary orientation often becomes difficult, because for most human beings it is not feasible to read all of the top publications in two disciplines. I know this from my own experience in the case of philosophy and sociology. Accordingly most sociologists who are interested in taking philosophical findings into account, will have a hard time doing so. For this reason I put together a reading list, which offers some orientation for sociologists which are interested in analytic metaphysics. I am construing the label “analytic metaphysics” broadly and also include texts, which argue for the existence of group agents. Continue reading “Reading List: Analytic Metaphysics for Sociologists”