The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences

The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences

by Brian Epstein

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We live in a world of crowds and corporations, artworks and artifacts, legislatures and languages, money and markets. These are all social objects - they are made, at least in part, by people and by communities. But what exactly are these things? How are they made, and what is the role of people in making them?

In The Ant Trap, Brian Epstein rewrites our understanding of the nature of the social world and the foundations of the social sciences. Epstein explains and challenges the three prevailing traditions about how the social world is made. One tradition takes the social world to be built out of people, much as traffic is built out of cars. A second tradition also takes people to be the building blocks of the social world, but focuses on thoughts and attitudes we have toward one another. And a third tradition takes the social world to be a collective projection onto the physical world. Epstein shows that these share critical flaws. Most fundamentally, all three traditions overestimate the role of people in building the social world: they are overly anthropocentric.

Epstein starts from scratch, bringing the resources of contemporary metaphysics to bear. In the place of traditional theories, he introduces a model based on a new distinction between the grounds and the anchors of social facts. Epstein illustrates the model with a study of the nature of law, and shows how to interpret the prevailing traditions about the social world. Then he turns to social groups, and to what it means for a group to take an action or have an intention. Contrary to the overwhelming consensus, these often depend on more than the actions and intentions of group members.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199381104
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 04/01/2015
Series: Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Science Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Brian Epstein received his PhD in philosophy from Stanford University, his master's in philosophy from Oxford University, and graduated summa cum laude with an AB in philosophy from Princeton University. His research interests include philosophy of social science, metaphysics, and philosophy of language, focusing in particular on issues in the theory of reference and the ontology of social kinds. He also has interests in conceptual schemes, the philosophy of music, and the philosophy of economics. Between degree programs, he worked at a number of technology startups and consulting firms.

Table of Contents


1 Individualism: a recipe for warding off "spirits"
2 Getting to the consensus view
3 Seeds of doubt
4 Another puzzle: a competing consensus
5 Tools and terminology
6 Grounding and anchoring
7 Case study: laws as frame principles
8 Two kinds of individualism
9 Against conjunctivism

10 Groups and constitution
11 Simple facts about groups
12 The identity of groups
13 Kinds of groups
14 Group attitudes: patterns of grounding
15 Group action: more than member action
16 Group intention
17 Other theories I: social integrate models
18 Other theories II: status models



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