I am a philosopher of science and have made my main contributions to the discipline as a philosopher of social science. I am focused broadly on ontological commitment in the social sciences – I want to know what we can learn about the nature of social reality from the social sciences. Some of my work focuses on global questions, where I discuss and assess general arguments concerning ontology and the social sciences. My other work focuses on local questions, or questions we can raise about specific topics in the social sciences. I will first describe my work on global questions about the social sciences and then turn to describe my work dealing with local questions.
The first “global” question I am interested in concerns a broadly metaphilosophical issue: what the relationship between philosophy and science should be. In one of my articles, which spurred a symposium in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, I have discussed whether and in what sense we could say that social ontology is “prior” to social scientific methodology – whether in some sense we need to do ontology first before we can have empirically successful social science. Some prominent philosophers believe that we should think of social ontology as prior in this way. Some have even suggested that the social sciences are less empirically successful than the natural sciences because they do not have good philosophical foundations. However, I contend that arguments for the “priority” claim can be interpreted differently depending on how we interpret uses of existential quantification. Specifically, I have focused on the issue of whether existential quantification is ontologically committing. If we interpret the existential quantifier as ontologically committing, then social ontology as traditionally conceived (as getting at the contents of the social world) may be prior to social scientific methodology. However, if we should not interpret the existential quantifier as ontologically committing, we might, at best, be left with a conception of social ontology according to which it does not give us knowledge of the nature of the social world. Instead, social ontology only provides possible models of the social world that may or may not serve the interests of social scientists.
The second global question asks about scientific realism about the social sciences as a source of social-ontological commitments, or what one might call a naturalized social ontology. In one article (now in Journal for General Philosophy of Science) I revisit metaontological concerns about how to understand existential quantification or existence claims more broadly in the context of arguments that purportedly demonstrate the reality of the posits of the social sciences. Social scientific realist arguments make a general appeal to the predictive, explanatory, or metrological role that theoretical posits play and use this to justify their existence. I propose that naturalized social ontology, if one favors the parsimony an austere ontology delivers, might be better understood on the model of an Carnapian or easy ontology. The main aim of this article is dialectical. I want to raise new discussion about what can plausibly justify the easy interpretation over the harder interpretation scientific realism about the social sciences.
As for the more local dimension of my research, one of my more recent publications (now in Philosophers’ Imprint) is a collaboration with Kareem Khalifa in which we assess what we call “social scientific realist” arguments for the reality of race (as a social construction). These arguments are like the arguments in the previous work I described – they justify the existence of race by appealing to the role that race plays in our best social science. We consider a range of social scientific research that uses race as an independent variable and conclude that these uses are compatible with a constructive anti-realist interpretation of race according to which people are racialized but there are no races. We conclude that these arguments for the reality of race are unsuccessful, but again introduce this to apply dialectical pressure on our interlocutors. We have since continued to develop our work in this area. Our newest paper (forthcoming in Synthese) examines different “metaontologies” of race – or, approaches to answering questions about the existence and nature of race. We distinguish social scientific from linguistic metaontologies of race. The former say that we should use the social sciences to answer questions about the existence and nature of race, while the second say that we may rely on ordinary linguistic intuitions. We argue that there are important respects in which it seems that social scientific metaontologies are superior – namely, their reliance on the methods of our best social science allows social scientific metaontologies to reduce the number of competing hypotheses.
“Should Ordinary Race Talk be Ontologically Privileged? Moving Social Science into the Philosophical Mainstream” (with Kareem Khalifa) Forthcoming in Synthese
“Motivating a Pragmatic Approach to Naturalized Social Ontology” Journal for General Philosophy of Science Vol. 53, June 2022
“Do the Social Sciences Vindicate Race’s Reality?” (with Kareem Khalifa). Philosopher’s Imprint Vol. 21, August 2021
“Instrumentalizing and Naturalizing Social Ontology: Replies to Simon Lohse and Daniel Little” Philosophy of the Social Sciences Vol. 51 Issue 1, 2021 [Article for Symposium about my “Is Social Ontology Prior to Social Scientific Methodology”]
“Is Social Ontology Prior to Social Scientific Methodology?” Philosophy of the Social Sciences Vol. 49 issue 3, June 2019
“Predictive Success and Non-Individualist Models in Social Science” Philosophy of the Social Sciences Vol. 47 Issue 2, March 2017
“Healthcare Rights” in The Rowman and Littlefield Handbook of Bioethics. November 2022. Rowman and Littlefield [BOOK CHAPTER]
“Adam Tamas Tuboly: The History of Understanding in Analytic Philosophy: Around Logical Empiricism” (Forthcoming in HOPOS) [BOOK REVIEW]
“Quentin Ruyant: Modal Empiricism: Interpreting Science Without Scientific Realism” (Forthcoming in Journal for General Philosophy of Science) [BOOK REVIEW]