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Social Categories in Context

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2020



Social categories play a central role in inquiry. Some authors have argued that social categories can only play this role because they have a particular metaphysical status, such as a connection to natural kinds or to comparatively joint-carving properties. This reflects the broadly realist idea that categories that play important roles in inquiry do so for metaphysical reasons. In this paper I argue that such metaphysical views of social categories cannot accommodate ‘empty’ social categories, cases in which social categories that cannot have the metaphysical features attributed to them by such accounts still play a central role in inquiry. I defend an alternative approach: context-dependent naturalness, an analogue of metaphysical naturalness that concerns context-dependent, rather than metaphysical, structure.

Copyright © American Philosophical Association 2020

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Many thanks to Ásta, Patrick Connolly, Michaela McSweeney, Elizabeth Miller, Katherine Ritchie, and two anonymous referees for helpful conversation and critique. Thanks also to audiences at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Edinburgh, and Social Ontology 2018.


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