Social Ontology and Social Normativity

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Presentation by Brian Donohue (Ontologist, Capital One, McLean VA)

University at Buffalo, North Campus, 2:30-4:00pm, January 27, 2020


Many recent accounts of the ontology of groups, institutions, and practices have touched upon the normative or deontic dimensions of social reality (e.g., social obligations, claims, permissions, prohibitions, authority, and immunity), as distinct from any specifically moral values or obligations. For the most part, however, the ontology of such socio-deontic phenomena has not received the attention it deserves. In what sense might a social obligation or a claim exist? What is the ontological status of such an obligation (e.g., is it an entity in its own right)? And how do people come to have social obligations or permissions in the first place? In this dissertation, I argue that such social-deontic phenomena can be accounted for ontologically in terms of the existence of shared prescriptive representational content that is backed by collectively held dispositions to monitor for compliance, and to punish (sanction, blame, chide, look unfavorably upon) those who fail to comply.