November 7th: Jules Salomone, “Grades of Realism in Social Ontology” and Philip Zigman, “The Lottery Won’t Solve Your Problems”

Grades of Realism in Social Ontology

Jules Salomone, The Graduate Center, CUNY

The Lottery Won’t Solve Your Problems

Philip Zigman, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Monday, November 7, 2016, 4:45-5:30
Location: Room 5409


Grades of Realism in Social Ontology

That the twenty euro bill I have in my wallet is real, that the assertion ‘The UK is a state’ is truth- assessable, and that being married to each other is a genuine feature of Karim and Eli is, I suggest, beyond dispute. Eliminativism about the bill in my wallet would not only go against ordinary discourse about money; it would also deprive monetary economics of its subject matter. Arguing that ‘The UK is a state’ is not truth-assessable would unconvincingly compel us to consider all the currently made claims purporting to record facts about the Brexit referendum to be mere façon de parler expressing (e.g.) non-cognitive attitudes or perhaps assertions reducible to truth-assessable beliefs about non-social facts. And denying that being married is a genuine feature of those who have said ‘I do’ would implausibly challenge the reasonable view that the predicate ‘married’ can figure in substantive explanations of why married couples engage in certain behaviors and courses of actions – and of why we judge married couples to be, indeed, married.

The interesting question is not whether realism about (at least a subclass of) social objects, facts and the referents of social concepts is defensible, but rather what sort of realism is appropriate in social ontology broadly construed. Many accounts found in the literature cohere with the view that social concepts are response-dependent, i.e. that a certain kind of attitude of some class of subjects determines the extension of the properties picked out by such concepts. In this paper, I do not intend to take issue with response-dependent accounts of social concepts when couched in this very general (and plausible) way. Instead, I will challenge a pervasive interpretation of the view that social concepts are response-dependent, and the resulting watered down realism in social ontology that is argued for by its advocates. The general form of this interpretation is encapsulated in the following equation taken to hold as an a priori matter:

x is F ↔ in the context C, subjects S1, …, Sn collectively accept that if x satisfies condition G, then x is F.

Following Hindriks, I will call this interpretation the acceptance-dependent account of social concepts. On Searle’s view, acceptance-dependent concepts figure prominently in assertions recording institutional facts. Similarly, Fine’s account of joint intentions is consistent with the view that the concept of such intentions is acceptance-dependent. In fact, he suspects that many more social concepts should be characterized in a similar fashion. Pace Hindriks, Searle and Fine, I will argue that only a sub-class of social concepts are acceptance-dependent.

I first present and discuss what I call robustly response-dependent accounts of concepts that have been historically developed in order to capture the features of evaluational concepts. In doing so, I characterize the kind of qualified, and yet robust, realism delivered by such accounts. I then contrast robustly response-dependent accounts with acceptance-dependent theories and show that the latter can only serve to defend various versions of a highly qualified type of realism that I seek to specify. I finally proceed to make the case for the view that a subclass of social concepts are robustly response-dependent.

The Lottery Won’t Solve Your Problems

Guerrero (2014) argues that because of certain problems with electoral representative democracy, we should
favor an alternative lottocratic system in which lawmakers are chosen via lottery. Guerrero’s charge against
electoral representative democracies is that due to features intrinsic to such systems they tend to do poorly when it comes to outcomes, both in terms of responsiveness and good governance. In particular, various forms of unavoidable ignorance on the part of citizens are alleged to be an insurmountable obstacle to responsive or good outcomes. I argue that Guerrero fails to give us compelling reasons to prefer a lottocracy to an electoral representative democracy. First, I argue that if electoral representative democracies do not tend to produce responsive or good outcomes, this is due to various contingent features of a society, rather than features intrinsic to electoral representative democracies. I then argue that the underlying issues that negatively impact outcomes in electoral representative democracies would pose similar problems in a lottocracy. I conclude by arguing that the general strategy Guerrero employs in his paper is deeply flawed. Though he recognizes that various contingent features of our society—such as substantial economic inequality and poorly structured elections—contribute to the failings of our electoral representative democracy, and rightly notes that addressing these issues would face significant political opposition from the wealthy and powerful, his theoretical alternative would almost certainly face as much—if not more—opposition, making it an otherworldly solution to the very real problem of unresponsive and bad outcomes.