Brian Epstein, "The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences" (Oxford UP, 2015)


The social sciences are about social entities - things like corporations and traffic jams, mobs and money, parents and war criminals. What is a social entity? What makes something a social entity? Traditional views hold that these things can be fully explained by facts about people - their bodies, their attitudes or some combination of these. In The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences (Oxford University Press, 2015), Brian Epstein argues that such views of social facts are untenably anthropocentric: social facts supervene on much more than just people. His model distinguishes two kinds of questions that a theory of social ontology must answer. When are social categories realized, or what grounds a social fact (such as the fact that someone is a war criminal)? And what explains how these categories get established, or what anchors the category? Epstein, an assistant professor of philosophy at Tufts University, also uses his model to provide a new analysis of group action and group intention. On his view, group action is not exhausted by the actions of members, and group intention depends on more than member attitudes.

Your Host

Carrie Figdor

Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.

View Profile