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The University of Southampton
PhilosophyPart of Humanities

Research project: Cultural and Social Ontology

Currently Active: 
Yes

Philosophers have tended to study the ontology of cultural artefacts (e.g., works of art) and the ontology of social objects and constructions (e.g., institutions and money) independently. With a few rare exceptions, there has been almost no attempt to bring these topics under a single theoretical umbrella. Indeed, people working in one area often seem entirely unaware of research in the other. Yet it is easy to see that many of the puzzles raised in the two areas are fundamentally similar, and might admit of similar solutions. With that in mind, the goal of our project will be to bridge these two areas, paving the way for a unified ontology of social and cultural objects.

Philosophers have tended to study the ontology of cultural artefacts (e.g., works of art) and the ontology of social objects and constructions (e.g., institutions and money) independently. With a few rare exceptions, there has been almost no attempt to bring these topics under a single theoretical umbrella. Indeed, people working in one area often seem entirely unaware of research in the other. Yet it is easy to see that many of the puzzles raised in the two areas are fundamentally similar, and might admit of similar solutions. With that in mind, the goal of our project will be to bridge these two areas, paving the way for a unified ontology of social and cultural objects.

More details about the project, and about upcoming events, can be found on the project website.

Conferences and events associated with this project:

Group Belief and Action, June 2015

 

This workshop considers how the theory of collective intentionality—the nature of collective belief and action—bears on the ontology of social and cultural objects? How is it that corporations and groups come into existence? Apparently through the collective agency and beliefs of the individuals that comprise them. But notice that arguably the very same mechanisms underwrite the existence of other social and cultural artefacts, explaining, for example, how it is that a piece of paper can be a bank note, the signing of a document can be legally binding, and a piece of music can be performed by the myriad artists who make up an orchestra. This workshop will explore how leading theories of collective belief and action can be brought to bear on puzzles about the ontology of other social and cultural artefacts.

Speakers include:

Jennifer Lackey

Kurt Sylvan

 

Social Objects and Cultural Artefacts

 

The topic will be a central one in social ontology: the metaphysics of social objects and constructions such as institutions, bank notes, touchdowns, marriages, and dinner parties. The workshop will be designed to bridge this topic in social ontology with the ontology of cultural artefacts. In a paper that has been surprisingly neglected by social ontologists (‘New Foundations for Social Ontology’), Amie Thomasson explored the analogy between social objects and cultural artefacts and used it to undermine John Searle’s influential approach to social ontology.

 

The Metaphysics of Types

 

What kinds of things are repeatable artworks, such as pieces of music? One influential tradition has it that just as we distinguish between the abstract word type, of which there are many tokens, we should likewise think of repeatable artworks as types, the performances and copies of which are tokens. But this just pushes the question back – how should we think of types? And should we extend the type/token distinction to other artefacts such as makes of car, marriages, and bank notes? This workshop will explore the nature of types, and the advantages and limitations of type/token framework.

 

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