Social Philosophy

This year's topic:  Social Ontology and Epistemology

In this reading group, we will study recent work on social ontology and epistemology. During the fall semester, we’ll cover social ontology, i.e., the field of metaphysics which concerns the ontological status of social kinds. Do social kinds, such as races, ethnicities, and genders, exist? Are they socially constructed? If so, what does it mean for them to be socially constructed? Are these social kinds intrinsically related to our perceived identities? To explore these questions, we’ll focus on the special case of race and ethnicity. Once we are clearer on what social kinds are, in the spring we will explore social epistemology, that is, the subfield of epistemology which deals with our knowledge in the social realm. In this reading group, we’ll focus on situated knowledge: how does the knowledge of members of different social groups compare? Are there facts which are only knowable to certain social groups? Should we strive for “epistemic democracy,” i.e., the idea that everyone, regardless of social identity, can acquire the same epistemic goods? Or is there some value to our differences as knowing agents?

Fall 2018:

The following is our schedule for the fall. We'll be meeting at 4:45pm - 6:15pm. Location: Room 121, 1879 Hall.

  • September 25: Eliminativism about race
    • Readings: Du Bois (1897), Appiah (1985); Bamshad & Olsen (2003)
  • October 23: What is social constructionism?
    • Readings: Mills (1998), Mallon (2004)
  • November 20: How are races socially constructed?
    • Readings: West (1993), Haslanger (2012), Obasogie (2013)
  • December 11: The ontological status of passing, panethnicity, mixed-races
    • Readings: Piper (1991), LeEspiritu (1994), Alcoff (2000)

Spring 2019:

The following is our schedule for the spring. We'll be meeting at 12:00pm-1:30pm. Location: 1879 Hall, Room 301. (This is the mezzanine above the tower room).

  • Extraordinary session: Feb. 26: reception and informal discussion with Charles Mills. Location: Tower Room in 1879 Hall. Time: 4:30 - 5:45pm.
  • Feb 28: Being Ignorant/Keeping others Ignorant
    • Readings: Alcoff, "Epistemologies of Ignorance: Three Types" (2007), Abramson, "Turning up the Lights on Gaslighting" (2014)
  • March 14: Epistemic Oppression and Exploitation
    • Readings: Dotson, "Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression" (2014), Berenstain, "Epistemic Exploitation" (2016)
  • April 11: Knowing from a Standpoint
    • Reading: Toole, Manuscript on standpoint epistemology and epistemic peers
  • May 2: Making Ourselves Known (from our Standpoint)
    • Reading: Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (1988)

For access to the texts, please reach out to me to be added to the email list.

Contact:  Alejandro Naranjo Sandoval