The Ant Trap

The Ant Trap : Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences

3.86 (21 ratings by Goodreads)
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We live in a world of crowds and corporations, artworks and artifacts, legislatures and languages, money and markets. These are all social objects - they are made, at least in part, by people and by communities. But what exactly are these things? How are they made, and what is the role of people in making them?

In The Ant Trap, Brian Epstein rewrites our understanding of the nature of the social world and the foundations of the social sciences. Epstein explains and challenges the three prevailing traditions about how the social world is made. One tradition takes the social world to be built out of people, much as traffic is built out of cars. A second tradition also takes people to be the building blocks of the social world, but focuses on thoughts and attitudes we have toward one another.
And a third tradition takes the social world to be a collective projection onto the physical world. Epstein shows that these share critical flaws. Most fundamentally, all three traditions overestimate the role of people in building the social world: they are overly anthropocentric.

Epstein starts from scratch, bringing the resources of contemporary metaphysics to bear. In the place of traditional theories, he introduces a model based on a new distinction between the grounds and the anchors of social facts. Epstein illustrates the model with a study of the nature of law, and shows how to interpret the prevailing traditions about the social world. Then he turns to social groups, and to what it means for a group to take an action or have an intention.
Contrary to the overwhelming consensus, these often depend on more than the actions and intentions of group members.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 312 pages
  • 156 x 238 x 23mm | 564g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0199381100
  • 9780199381104
  • 944,382

Table of contents

INTRODUCTION ; PART ONE DL FOUNDATIONS, OLD AND NEW ; 1 Individualism: a recipe for warding off
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Review quote

An extremely serious and significant book, as good a treatment of the metaphysics of the social world as there is, by some way. It provides an outstandingly elegant illustration of why metaphysical foundations really matter to the practice of science, and opens the door to a more productive philosophy of social science than has hitherto been available. The arguments are careful and rigorous, with the right mixture of theories and examples, arriving at quite original
conclusions. The book is praised as beautiful and engaging, original and ambitious, exemplary in its clarity, and extremely enjoyable to read. * Selectors for the 2016 Lakatos Award by the London School of Economics and Political Science * More important, however, is Epstein's account of the social world in terms of 'grounding,' 'framing,' and 'anchoring'; it seems to offer hope of providing a better, more useful understanding of the social world. This is an important book; the author is well versed in recent literature, careful, and clear ... Recommended * Choice * Brian Epstein has produced an ambitious, innovative approach to the analytical explanation of social facts and entities, including small and large social groups, collective actions, public artifacts, organizations, etc. Throughout, he urges a deep openness to unexplored methodological and ontological possibilities not exemplified in current social science practice or theory and systematically demonstrates how new analytical tools address what he sees as lacunae or
confusions in current theory. * J.K. Swindler, Philosophy in Review * For anyone interested in social ontology, The Ant Trap should be the very next book you read. It not only fashions sharper tools for the analysis of social phenomena, it provides a new perspective on the debates in social ontology, and shines a bright and not very flattering light on the current consensus. It does what the best philosophical works can do: It improves the questions we are asking. * Mark Risjord, Metascience * This book is one of the most thought-provoking contributions to the philosophy of the social sciences I have read in years. Beautifully written and packed with insights, it is an essential read for anyone interested in the foundations of the social sciences. * Christian List, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, London School of Economics, and Fellow of the British Academy * The Ant Trap is a powerful book that challenges individualist assumptions that have guided social theory and philosophy of social science over the past several decades. It also shows why good metaphysics matters. It is a must-read both for those working in the foundations of social science, and for anyone in philosophy interested, quite broadly, in ontology and explanation. The book demonstrates clearly how interdisciplinary philosophical work can inform, and
transform, inquiry in several fields, including philosophy itself. * Sally Haslanger, Ford Professor of Philosophy, MIT *
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About Brian Epstein

Brian Epstein received his PhD in philosophy from Stanford University, his master's in philosophy from Oxford University, and graduated summa cum laude with an AB in philosophy from Princeton University. His research interests include philosophy of social science, metaphysics, and philosophy of language, focusing in particular on issues in the theory of reference and the ontology of social kinds. He also has interests in conceptual schemes, the
philosophy of music, and the philosophy of economics. Between degree programs, he worked at a number of technology startups and consulting firms.
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Rating details

21 ratings
3.86 out of 5 stars
5 29% (6)
4 48% (10)
3 10% (2)
2 10% (2)
1 5% (1)
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