The ontology of social groups

Amie L. Thomasson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Two major questions have dominated work on the metaphysics of social groups: first, Are there any? And second, What are they? I will begin by arguing that the answer to the ontological question is an easy and obvious ‘yes’. We do better to turn our efforts elsewhere, addressing the question: “What are social groups?” One might worry, however, about this question on grounds that the general term ‘social group’ seems like a term of art—not a well-used concept we can analyze, or can presuppose corresponds to a real kind we can investigate. But while the general notion of ‘social group’ may be a term of art, our terms for clubs and courts, races and genders, are not. It is worth stepping back to ask what function these social group concepts serve. I will argue that individual social group concepts function to give normative structure to our lives together. Paying attention to the role of norms in social groups, I will argue, can enable us to provide a unified understanding of the importance of core social groups, while still respecting the great differences among social groups of different kinds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4829-4845
Number of pages17
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Gender
  • Race
  • Social construction
  • Social group
  • Social institutions
  • Social ontology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences(all)


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