Author Archives: Daniel Ramirez

The Debunking Project and Feminism in Metaphysics

Haslanger’s conception of a “debunking” project arises from a critique of Hacking’s notions of object construction and idea construction.
Debunking: “[The] project of challenging the purported truth conditions for the application of a concept”.

Hacking’s definition of a social construct:
1. X need not have existed , or need not be at all as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable.
2. X is quite bad as it is.
3. We would be much better off if X were done away with, or at least radically transformed. (Hacking 1999 , p. 6)
Condition (O): “(0) In the present state of aff airs, X is taken for granted, X appears to be inevitable” (Hacking 1999 , p. 12

“Especially important to Hacking is the distinction between constructing ideas (which includes concepts, categories, classifi cations, etc.) and constructing objects. (Note that Hacking’s understanding of “objects” is broad and includes: people, states, conditions, practices, actions, behavior, classes, experiences, relations, material objects, substances [i.e., stuff s], unobservables, and fundamental particles (Hacking 1999 , p. 22).)”
Hacking believes that if an “object” or an “idea” is to be considered a social construct it must satisfy condition (O). Hacking also holds that social constructions are formed causally, that there is a historical contingency leading up to the existence of every social construct.

Haslanger goes after Hackings conception of idea constructivism as follows:

Hacking sets up an exchange between two positions: the idea constructionist and the idea determinist. The idea constructionist holds that “with respect to a domain D, (a) the contingency of our understanding of D; (b) nominalism about kinds in D , or more precisely, a denial that the domain D has an inherent structure; and (c) an explanation of the stability of our understanding of D in external rather than internal terms.” The (c) condition refers to the idea-constructionist’s view that an alternative scientific/social theory completely different, yet just as “useful” as our own, is possible.

The idea determinist, on the other hand, holds “that the domain D has an inherent structure, that our understanding of D is in some sense inevitable because the inherent structure of D causally determines how to understand it, and that our understanding of D is stable because the stable structure of the world sustains it” The idea determinist is concerned with what our theories are about while the idea constructionist is concerned with the dynamics of classification. Haslanger finds Hacking incomplete and claims that the discussion about social construction must be about the contextual or constitutive norms that form the basis of justification for our classification scheme(s).

Discursive Construction and the Debunking Project:

Hackings conception of discursive construction and its implications:

“Something is discursively constructed just in case it is (to a significant extent) the way it is because of what is attributed to it or how it is classified. (Haslanger 2012 [1995] , p. 99)”

Haslanger believes Hacking’s conception of discursive construction is too narrow. One of Haslanger’s primary critiques of Hacking is his emphasis on cognitive aspects of social construction. Hacking characterizes object construction as a process that primarily works with and on ideas within a respective social matrix. Haslanger isn’t satisfied with Hackings “social matrix” and mentions the need for “a way of thinking about “object construction” or better, the formation of social kinds, that acknowledges the causal impact of classification, but also gives due weight to the unintended and unconceptualized impact of practices.”

By putting less emphasis on psychological aspects we position ourselves in such a way that allows us to see different and perhaps more fundamental sources of construction outside of a purely conceptual and linguistic discourse.

The result of Haslanger’s critique is the debunking project.

The project involves a two dimensional investigation of a social kinds. “One dimension represents the degree to which explicit classification is a causal factor in bringing about the features that make for membership in the kind (as opposed to the features being an unintended byproduct of social practices); the other dimension represents the degree to which the kind in question is defined by “identification” with the social position.”
Haslangers definition of a thick social position: social positions that entail a broad range of norms, expectations, obligations, entitlements, and so on.

“One might argue that (“thick”) widowhood is a social construct, where the point is that it is wrong to see widows as the social kind consisting of women whose husbands have died, and who for some reason or other come to be poor, childless, and filthy. Rather, the claim would be that the (“thick”) condition of widows as poor, childless, and so on, is something that “we”—our institutions and practices—have created. Thanks to the formation and employment of appropriate categories our concept of widowhood, in this case, is revealed to be more robustly social than previously thought. That’s what the debunking project is all about.

Haslanger proposes the following filter for any category we might think up in hopes of “debunking” it:
Is the classification useful politically and/or theoretically useful, and (2) should we take the theoretical classification C to capture the commitments of ordinary discourse?

Semantic Externalism:
Debunking constructionist rely on a species of semantic externalism. Haslanger believes that scientist and social theorist are epistemically positioned in a way that gives them the authority to define social categories. Haslanger also mentions that, given the nature of the theoretical work at hand, it is ultimately a judgment call whether or not we choose to accept the social theorist’s/scientist’s definition. How about that?

Feminsim in Metaphysics

Haslanger brings up a lot different and interesting feminist literature in this chapter of which I will merely provide examples of. Given the structure and aim of her argument within the chapter, I think this is an effective approach. Ultimately Haslanger decides that feminist metaphysics is in fact possible. She mentions that any sort of feminist theorizing doesn’t necessarily attribute women with a privileged view of reality, it merely recognizes that women are unjustly treated and proceeds in the hopes of diminishing that unjust treatment. Haslanger also concludes, perhaps in stark contrast to Haraway, that one need not be an anti-realist about objective types in order to foster radical feminists doubts about ontological realism.
Some interesting quotes from the chapter:

Must a “gynocentric” perspective capture the experiences of all or most women? And if not all women have access to a “gynocentric” perspective, do efforts to describe such a perspective rely on problematic normative stereotypes about how women should be?

“Theorizing entirely from a gynocentric perspective would not be warranted unless there were grounds for privileging agynocentric perspective on the issue. Perhaps for this reason, this genre of feministcritique has been more effective in revealing the limitations of mainstream views than in defending gynocentric ontologies.”