Social change and agency

Much of the drama of history is found in processes of large social and political change, both slow and rapid. The sudden collapse of the Soviet system in 1989 and 1990, the success of the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, the decades-long rise of the nationalist right in France and the United States, the rise …

A rapid tour of actor-centered social ontology

https://youtu.be/qjFpedfIJ7Q Ontological individualism holds the fairly humdrum view that the social world is entirely constituted by the activities, thoughts, and social relationships of individual actors. This short presentation provides one way of thinking about how to think about higher-level social entities from an actor-centered point of view. It provides a "mental map" for social entities …

Rational life plans and the stopping problem

Image: a poor solution to the stopping problem In earlier posts I discussed the question of "rational plans of life" (link, link, link, link) and argued that standard theories of rational decision making under uncertainty don't do well in this context. I argued instead that rationality in navigating and building a life is not analogous to remodeling your …

Entertainment as a valuable thing

Quite a bit of the GDP of the United States goes into a broad category we can call "entertainment" -- television, video streaming services, books and newspapers, concerts, theatre, sports events (live and broadcast), and video games. The entertainment industry amounts to $717 billion in the US economy (link), and professional athletics adds another $73.5 …

The place for thick theories of the actor in philosophy

  image: Bruegel, The Dutch Proverbs (1559)   When philosophers of the social sciences take seriously the importance of individual action within the social realm, we often look in the direction of methodological individualism and the methods of "aggregation dynamics". That is, agent-centered theorists are usually interested in finding ways of climbing the upward strut …

Emotions as neurophysiological constructs

Are emotions real? Are they hardwired to our physiology? Are they pre-cognitive and purely affective? Was Darwin right in speculating that facial expressions are human universals that accurately represent a small repertoire of emotional experiences (The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals)? Or instead are emotions a part of the cognitive output of …

Folk psychology and Alexa

Paul Churchland made a large splash in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science several decades ago when he cast doubt on the categories of "folk psychology" -- the ordinary and commonsensical concepts we use to describe and understand each other's mental lives. In Paul Churchland and Patricia Churchland, On the Contrary: Critical Essays, 1987-1997, …

Actors in historical epochs

I've argued often for the idea that social science and historical explanations need to be "actor-centered" -- we need to ground our hypotheses about social and historical causation in theories of the pathways through which actors embody those causal processes. Actors in relation to each other constitute the "substrate" of social causation. Actors make up …

Processual sociology

Andrew Abbott is one of the thinkers within sociology who is not dependent upon a school of thought -- not structuralism, not positivism, not ethnomethodology, not even the Chicago School. He approaches the problems that interest him with a fresh eye and therefore represents a source of innovation and new ideas within sociological theory. Second, …

What is the role of character in action?

  I've been seriously interested in the question of character since being invited to contribute to a volume on the subject a few years ago. That volume, Questions of Character, has now appeared in print, and it is an excellent and engaging contribution. Iskra Fileva was the director of the project and is the editor …

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