Constructing Human kinds: One-Day Workshop

Workshop organized by the Research Group in Theoretical Philosophy.

Attendance is free, but registration required. Please contact Thor Grünbaum if you plan to attend.

This workshop is dedicated to Ron Mallon’s recent work on the construction of human kinds in scientific, political, and social life. In addressing various aspects of Mallon’s account of the ways in which we categorize humans, the speakers will discuss central issues in the establishment of social coordination, psychiatric diagnostic systems, and social power relations. This workshop should be of interest to researchers and students with an interest in philosophy of science, metaphysics, philosophy of language, and epistemology.


08:45 - 09:00   Arrival and coffee

09:00 - 10:15   Stabilizing a Culture-Bound Human Kind: Beyond Exculpation
                          Ron Mallon, Washington University in St. Louis

10:15 - 10:30   Pause

10:30 - 11:45   Social kinds in the making – construction or recruitment?
                          Samuli Reijula, University of Tampere

11:45 - 12:45   Lunch

12:45 - 14:00   Social roles, slurs and power
                          Mihaela Popa-Wyatt, University of Birmingham

14:00 - 14:15   Pause

14:15 -15.30   Constructing kinds with normative generics
                         Oliver Lemeire, KU Leuven

15:30 - 15:45   Pause

15.45 - 17.00   Designing human kinds for better living: Psychiatric kinds and the DSM
                          Rachel Cooper, Lancaster University


Stabilizing a Culture-Bound Human Kind: Beyond Exculpation (Ron Mallon, Washington University in St. Louis)
Some putatively natural human kinds vary from culture-to-culture, apparently controlled by culturally local understandings of the kind. One constructionist model of such kinds emphasizes the role of representations of a kind as natural in exculpating kind-typical behavior by putative
kind members. In this paper, I focus upon an apparent culture-bound syndrome in order to point out some shortcomings of this model, and suggest that it be supplemented by a model which sees theories of kinds as a pre-game identification of roles and behaviors that serve as equilibria solutions to problems of social coordination.

Social kinds in the making – construction or recruitment? (Samuli Reijula, University of
Real kinds are characterized by inductive thickness. They have relatively stable sets ofconceptually independent projectable properties. I explore different accounts of the origin of the inductive thickness of social kinds put forward by philosophers and social theorists. Searle's
collective acceptance account of institutional kinds leaves inductive thickness unexplained. Mallon defends a causal-mechanistic view inspired by Boyd's homeostatic property cluster (HPC) theory of natural kinds. I argue that although it provides a viable picture of the metaphysics of real kinds, the one-mechanism-one-kind view suggested by HPC theory is uninformative in the case of social kinds (e.g. ethnicity, gender, teenager, genius). As Mallon points out, the inductive thickness of socially constructed kinds is brought about not by one mechanism but various kinds of mechanisms (intentional action, automatic processes, environmental construction). I propose that the research done in social theory on boundary formation (Abbott 1995; Lamont & Molnar 2002; Tilly 2004) can be used to complement Mallon's account. Abbott's work, in particular, suggests that processes of boundary formation and change play a key role in the emergence and maintenance of social kinds: Social categories do not emerge out of thin air, instead, they result from processes in which local sites of difference are, so to say, linked or stitched together into boundaries, which, when stabilized – often by often a distinct set of mechanisms – give rise to inductively rich social kinds. 

Social roles, slurs and power (Mihaela Popa-Wyatt, University of Birmingham)
Mallon's work has established both social categories and representations as central to a realist theory of social kinds. In this talk, I will show how these ideas can be used to explain a puzzle in the effects of language use. Specifically, I will explain how it comes about that some slurs are more offensive than others. Following Lewis, we know that conversations can be thought of as games governed by rules. I suggest that we can think of conversational roles as indexing large numbers of these rules. I suggest that such conversational roles typically inherit from social roles. However, certain words can be used to create speech acts that assign new conversational roles, by drawing on and making salient social roles that are not initially at the forefront of the dialogue. Slurs are just such words, and slurring utterances are just such speech acts. Slurring utterances are speech acts of conversational role assignment where the assignment is of a low power role. The utterance is what Austin referred to as an exercitive, but one specifically restricted to having effects on the conversation. This idea allows us, with additional work, to explain: i) the degree of offence caused by a slurring utterance to a particular audience member; ii) why racists are rational
when using slurs; iii) effects on the target such as loss of conversational rights and silencing; iv) phenomena such as reclaim. In fact, I claim that the idea can be seen in a much wider range of utterances, such as recent political speech and that there is an explanation of how conversational role assignments have social effects well beyond the dialogue.

Constructing kinds with normative generics (Oliver Lemeire, KU Leuven)
Normative generics are sentences like “Boys don’t cry” and “Women are submissive”. Uttering such generics is an effective way of discursively constructing kinds, since they are both descriptive and normative. These sentences have a descriptive meaning, part of which is an essentialist
explanation for the behavior said to be typical of the kind. But they also have a normative meaning and have hortatory force when directed at someone who belongs to the kind. In this way, uttering a normative generic can at the same time incite particular behavior and explain that behavior in terms of someone’s nature. Hence they are the perfect constructivist tools. But how exactly do such seemingly simple sentences allow us to do such a complex thing? I consider two proposals in the literature. According to Sally Haslanger, the semantics of generics are pretty simple since they always express a statistical regularity. Against a backdrop of essentialist and normative assumptions, however, uttering a generic also pragmatically implicates an essentialist explanation and a normative ideal. Sarah-Jane Leslie, however, proposes that the complexity is semantic not pragmatic. Generics have complex truth-conditions and can literally mean something essentialist. Furthermore, some nouns like ‘boy’ or ‘woman’ are polysemous with both a descriptive and normative sense, which accounts for the fact that generics can have two different meanings. In this talk, I defend a semantic view similar to that of Leslie. I argue, however, that one cannot explain
the essentialist content of generics without resorting to their pragmatics, and that one needs a different set of truth-conditions to explain their hortatory force.

Designing human kinds for better living: Psychiatric kinds and the DSM (Rachel Cooper, Lancaster University)
In this paper I focus on those human kinds that have their origins in revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (more widely known as the DSM) – the hugely influential classification of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.
These kinds differ from many human kinds in that they have a transparent origin; at a certain point a committee of the American Psychiatric Association decides to introduce a new kind. It is now widely accepted that the diagnoses included in the DSM affect patients’ lives – for better or worse – and the committees responsible for the DSM are willing to consider altering the DSM in order to avoid potential negative effects on patients. This raises the following questions: Can we predict how a proposed new diagnosis might affect people? Can the DSM be developed with an eye to facilitating better living? In this paper I make use of the work of Hacking and Mallon in an attempt to address these questions