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Social Objects, Response-Dependence, and Realism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 November 2020



There is a widespread sentiment that social objects such as nation-states, borders, and pieces of money are just figments of our collective imagination and not really ‘out there’ in the world. Call this the ‘antirealist intuition’. Eliminativist, reductive materialist, and immaterialist views of social objects can all make sense of the antirealist intuition, in one way or another. But these views face serious difficulties. A promising alternative view is nonreductive materialism. Yet it is unclear whether and how nonreductive materialists can make sense of the antirealist intuition. I develop a version of nonreductive materialism that is able to meet this explanatory demand. The central idea is that social objects are materially constituted, response-dependent objects. I go on to offer an independent argument in favor of this response-dependent view of social objects. I then suggest that a proponent of this view can appeal to the response-dependent nature of social objects to explain, or explain away, the antirealist intuition.

Copyright © American Philosophical Association 2020

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I would like to thank audiences at the City University of New York, Dartmouth College, Humboldt University, New York University, Princeton University, and the University of Victoria, where versions of this material were presented. For helpful comments and discussion, I would also like to thank Paul Boghossian, David Chalmers, Robin Dembroff, Cian Dorr, Simon Evnine, Yu Guo, Eric Hochstein, Daniel Hoek, Daniel Korman, Uriah Kriegel, Marko Malink, Ned Markosian, Annette Martín, Philip Pettit, Michael Raven, Katherine Ritchie, Chelsea Rosenthal, Jonathan Schaffer, Erica Shumener, Vid Simoniti, Alexander Skiles, Olla Solomyak, Amie Thomasson, David Velleman, Jared Warren, Daniel Waxman, and two anonymous referees for the Journal of the American Philosophical Association. The ideas in this paper go back to my doctoral dissertation, and I am especially grateful to my advisor Kit Fine for his invaluable feedback.


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