Social Indeterminacy and Relativism
In my current research, I argue that the social world—the world of social groups, institutions, and kinds—is indeterminate and perspectival.
The social world is indeterminate in the sense that: there is no fact about whether certain individuals are members of certain social kinds. For example, due to the vagueness of racial kinds, there are individuals, many of whom identify as mixed race, who are neither Black nor non-Black. By understanding the indeterminacy of racial and other social kinds, we can better capture the experiences and social structures that surround mixed race, non-binary, and bisexual people.
The social world is perspectival in the sense that: whether you have a social property is relative to the perspective of those attributing the existence of social properties. My relativist theory of social kinds is unique because (a) it implies that we talk about the same social kinds even though they are perspective-dependent and (b) it does not imply that all perspectives are equally legitimate.
- "Social Construction and Indeterminacy"
- An increasing number of philosophers argue that indeterminacy is metaphysical (or worldly) in the sense that indeterminacy has its source in the world itself (rather than how the world is represented or known). The standard arguments for metaphysical indeterminacy are centered around the sorites paradox. In this essay, I present a novel argument for metaphysical indeterminacy. I argue that metaphysical indeterminacy follows from the existence of constitutive social construction; there is indeterminacy in the social world because there is indeterminacy in how the social world is constructed.
- "Ontological Erasure"
- In recent social metaphysics, philosophers have described forms of injustice that hold partly in virtue of metaphysical considerations: ontological oppression, ontological injustice, categorical injustice, and so on. The goal of this paper is to introduce another form of metaphysical injustice: ontological erasure. Ontological erasure occurs when an individual is wronged in virtue of it being indeterminate whether they are a member of a socially constructed group. My primary example of erasure concerns gendered groups that do not account for the possibility of trans people. In such cases, it is not that trans identity is considered and rejected; rather, the category of trans identity is ignored entirely.
- "Gender Relativism"
- How can a theory of gender terms both be descriptively adequate (faithful to ordinary usage) and politically adequate (useful for feminist political projects)? Relativism, that's how.
- "Derivative Indeterminacy"
- Indeterminacy is metaphysical (or worldly) if it has its source in the way the world is (rather than how it is represented or known). Suppose metaphysical indeterminacy exists. Is indeterminacy derivative, fundamental, or somehow neither? My goal is not to decide this question but to clear the ground for an answer. I clarify what it means for metaphysical indeterminacy to be derivative by using the framework of metaphysical grounding. Then I argue that accepting the existence of derivative indeterminacy is not nearly as metaphysically committal as philosophers have traditionally assumed.