Brian Epstein

The Ant Trap

Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences

Oxford University Press 2015

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The social sciences are about social entities – things like corporations and traffic jams, mobs and money, parents and war criminals. What is a...

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.

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