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Amie Thomasson on "“Social Ontology and Social Language”

Amie Thomasson
Friday, April 12, 2024
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Amie Thomasson

Abstract: I will argue that work in social ontology (as in other areas of metaphysics) can benefit from engaging with work on the development of language and the functions language serves in human life. For social ontology, as we usually think of it, deals with questions about what (social) entities there are, and what their natures are. But this presupposes a certain way of thinking about the language we use in discussing the social world-that it merely serves to pick out or describe features of the world we can investigate. Before we move forward with metaphysical questions on this assumption, I will argue, we need to step back to ask questions about the functions of the relevant forms of language in human life. We can get help with this project from systemic functional linguistics, which begins from anthropological questions about the functions different aspects of language serve in human life. Beginning from understanding the functions of different forms of language about the social world can help us avoid wasting time on irrelevant metaphysical questions, and re-focus our attention on understanding how social terms of different kinds work--and how they can lead to both important new bureaucratic and theoretic enablements, and sometimes to new and hidden forms of injustice.