On Organised and Feature Groups

For my upcoming talk on group ontology I am re-reading key papers on the topic. One of the most recent contributions is Brian Epstein’s “What Are Social Groups?“. Brian wrote one of the most advanced and wide-ranging text on the topic, but I will focus on a minor point from his paper.

Right at the beginning Brian discusses Katherine Ritchie’s distinction between organised and features groups. Microsoft is an organised group and males are a feature group. An organised group is characterised by a structure and a feature group by a feature, such as being male. You are a member of Microsoft if you fill a node in Microsoft’s structure and you are a member of the group males if you have the property to be male. Ritchie complicates the analysis slightly by arguing that the feature must be socially constructed, but that will remain secondary for my post.

Brian raises a number of serious problems for Ritchie’s distinction between the two group types. I look at one of those problems and suggest that it is not a problem after all. Here is the central quote:

“A key challenge for this approach is how to understand a “feature” in the latter category. Which sorts of features that members possess count for such groups, and which are ruled out? Ritchie needs to balance this carefully: if we include all properties, including extrinsic ones, then even the property being a person filling in a node of such-and-such a structure counts, so all groups would be feature groups and the intended contrast between the categories would collapse. If, on the other hand, the “features” were restricted to only intrinsic properties, then we would leave out the archetypal groups Ritchie highlights, such as races and genders.” (p. 4)

Brian argues that filling a node in a certain structure is a property and that therefore you cannot distinguish organised groups from feature groups.

The first few times I read the quoted passage Brian convinced me. Since then I’ve changed my mind. I now look at it this way: Brian is right, to fill a node of such-and-such a structure is a feature. I even grant it is the kind of feature that individuates a feature group. So there is a feature group of those individuals who have the feature to fill nodes of such-and-such a structure. There is the feature group of people who fill the nodes of Microsoft’s corporate structure, which I call the Microsoft-feature-group for short.

But admitting this feature group does not undermine the distinction between feature and structure groups at all! There are just two groups: an organised group and a feature group. There is the group Microsoft, an organised group, and there is the Microsoft-feature-group. They are two groups of two types.

Sure, being a member of Microsoft entails being a member of the Microsoft-feature-group and vice versa. But why is that a problem? The two groups share all their members at all times, but Brian allows for such coinciding groups in his paper. Even in different possible worlds the groups always have the same members, but they diverge in other features. Microsoft is part of S&P 500 index, but the Microsoft-feature-group is not.

Brian also doesn’t worry too much about parsimony, so he should not have a problem with the increasing number of groups. Having two coinciding groups does not undermine the distinction between types of groups.

Brian could try to argue that the Microsoft-feature-group has the same structure as Microsoft. Organised groups are individuated by their structure, so if the Microsoft-feature group had the same structure as Microsoft, it would be identical with Microsoft.  At least in her 2015 paper Ritchie does not provide identity conditions for feature groups, therefore the argument cannot run the other way. Brian must show that the Microsoft-feature-group has the same structure as Microsoft.

The best reason I see for assuming that the two groups have the same structure, is that they coincide at all times. However, I don’t think that he wants to commit to the claim that if two groups coincide they have the same structure. If the Supreme Court coincides with a golfing club, does the Supreme Court have the structure of the golfing club and vice versa? Probably not. (Admittedly Microsoft and the Microsoft-feature-group coincide over all possible worlds, but I don’t see why that makes a difference.) So, the Microsoft-feature-group could lack all functional structure, although it coincides with Microsoft. At least Brian would have to give us a different reason to think that the Microsoft-feature-group has the same structure as Microsoft.

We have two groups of two distinct types. If I’m right, this challenge to Ritchie’s account fails.

 

 

 

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Reading: Transformative Experience

L. A. Paul’s Transformative Experience has received unusually broad praise for a contemporary work in analytic philosophy. How many proper philosophy books come with a quote from a Slate interview on the back?

Paul’s book deserves the attention, whether or not you are convinced by its conclusion. It presents an issue of decision theory in clear terms and with accessible examples. At the heart of the book lies the question how we can rationally choose in light of a transformative experiences, such as turning into a vampire or having a child. Continue reading “Reading: Transformative Experience”

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””

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Twelve

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter twelve.

How Much Work Can Memes Do for Explaining the Origin of Language? Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Twelve”

What I Am Reading: Lynne Rudder Baker – Human Persons as Social Entities

Lynne Rudder Baker’s paper offers a sustained argument for what a number of people might have thought before and even proposed informally: Humans persons are social entities and therefore should be taken to be a part of social ontology.

Here is the Abstract of the paper:

The aim of this article is to show that human persons belong, ontologically, in social ontology. After setting out my views on ontology, I turn to persons and argue that they have first-person perspectives in two stages (rudimentary and robust) essentially. Then I argue that the robust stage of the first-person perspective is social, in that it requires a language, and languages require linguistic communities. Then I extend the argument to cover the rudimentary stage of the first-person perspective as well. I conclude by enumerating ways in which human persons differ from nonhuman animals.

Baker’s argument for this makes heavy use of her other works in metaphysics and especially those on personality. The main concepts are explained in this paper, but many questions might be left open, which can be answered by consulting her other work. As I see it, the outcome is a paper in which Baker justifies a thought, the thought that human persons are social entities, that is in the air by integrating the though into her own metaphysical system.

There are some worries, however, concerning her arguments for human beings as social entities. There are always some worries. Here are few: Continue reading “What I Am Reading: Lynne Rudder Baker – Human Persons as Social Entities”

What I Am Reading: Four Papers on Hegel’s Theory of the State. Part II

Portrait of G. W. F. Hegel
G. W. F. Hegel

I continue with my discussion of four paper on Hegel’s theory of the state as presented in his Philosophy of Right by discussing the last two papers. For the first two papers by Riedel and Sedgwick see this post. The papers I discuss this time are by Hans-Martin Jaeger and Thom Brooks.

  • Jaeger, Hans-Martin. 2002: “Hegel’s Reluctant Realism and the Transnationalisation of Civil Society”. In: Review of International Studies. Volume 28. Issue 3. 497-517.
  • Brooks, Thom. 2004. “Hegel’s Theory of International Politics: A Reply to Jaeger”. In: Review of International Studies. Volume 30. Issue 1. 149-152.

While the first two papers discussed how Hegel’s theory of the state in the Philosophy of Right relates to philosophical positions which historically precede Hegel, the last two paper discuss Hegel in relation to current theories of the state. Continue reading “What I Am Reading: Four Papers on Hegel’s Theory of the State. Part II”

What I Am Reading: Four Papers on Hegel’s Theory of the State. Part I

G.W.F. Hegel
G.W.F. Hegel

Lately I have read the following four papers on Hegel’s theory of the state in his Philosophy of Right:

  • Riedel, Manfred. 1962:“Tradition und Revolution in Hegel’s ‘Philosophie des Rechts’ ”. In Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung. Volume 15. Issue 2. 203-230.
  • Sedgwick, Sally. 2001: “The State as Organism: The Metaphysical Basis of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. In: The Southern Journal of Philosophy. Volume 31. Issue 1. 171-188.
  • Jaeger, Hans-Martin. 2002: “Hegel’s Reluctant Realism and the Transnationalisation of Civil Society”. In: Review of International Studies. Volume 28. Issue 3. 497-517.
  • Brooks, Thom. 2004. “Hegel’s Theory of International Politics: A Reply to Jaeger”. In: Review of International Studies. Volume 30. Issue 1. 149-152.

In this post I discuss the first two papers and in a follow-up post, I am going to cover the other two. Continue reading “What I Am Reading: Four Papers on Hegel’s Theory of the State. Part I”