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The Ant Trap

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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION ; PART ONE DL FOUNDATIONS, OLD AND NEW ; 1 Individualism: a recipe for warding off <"spirits>" ; 2 Getting to the consensus view ; 3 Seeds of doubt ; 4 Another puzzle: a competing consensus ; 5 Tools and terminology ; 6 Grounding and anchoring ; 7 Case study: laws as frame principles ; 8 Two kinds of individualism ; 9 Against conjunctivism ; PART TWO DL GROUPS AND THE FAILURE OF INDIVIDUALISM ; 10 Groups and constitution ; 11 Simple facts about groups ; 12 The identity of groups ; 13 Kinds of groups ; 14 Group attitudes: patterns of grounding ; 15 Group action: more than member action ; 16 Group intention ; 17 Other theories I: social integrate models ; 18 Other theories II: status models ; LOOKING AHEAD ; Acknowledgements ; Bibliography ; Index

Promotional Information

Winner of the 2016 American Philosophical Association Joseph B. Gittler Award Winner of the 2016 Lakatos Award

About the Author

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.


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 * 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 * 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 * 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 * 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 * 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 *

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