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.”

Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto”

“Blasphemy protects one from the moral majority within, while still insisting on the need for community” (291)


“An ironic dream of a common language for women in the integrated circuit”

First published in 1985, Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” represents a reaction against feminist attempts at establishing solidarity through essential criteria of the “female” or “feminine experience.” Rather than defending the female standpoint as epistemologically equal or even superior to the male—some feminists had tried to claim a privileged epistemic standpoint for “woman” as the more “natural” gender—Haraway advocates doing away with the roles altogether. The result, however, is not a post-gender world so much as a realm of transgressed boundaries. In what approaches a thesis statement, she writes, “This chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction” (292). The agent of this boundary confusion, in Haraway’s plan, is the cyborg: “… creatures simultaneously animal and machine, who populate worlds ambiguously natural and crafted.”


Some Key Definitions:

Cyborg: “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction”

Social Reality: “lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction”


Why the Cyborg?

In Haraway’s socialist-feminist vision, concepts of labor and of individuation and gender formation “depend on the plot of original unity out of which difference must be produced and enlisted in a drama of escalating domination of woman/nature” (292). In other words, capitalism and patriarchy are deeply symbiotic. The very concept of personal identity is dependent on vicious, dichotomous constructs that place man over woman and human over nature. Therefore, the oppression of women and nature are intimately connected. The strength of the cyborg lies in its ability to transgress the boundaries of both distinctions simultaneously.

In Haslanger’s terms, the category of “woman” is discursively constructed, meaning “it is the way it is, to some substantial extent, because of what is attributed (and/or self-attributed) to it” (Haslanger 88). Haslanger notes that this kind of construction involves a sort of “feedback loop” by which entities are assigned categories and then respond to them while simultaneously being formed by them. The Cyborg, in Haraway’s vision, would collapse the feedback loop by collapsing the distinction between what is natural and what is constructed. She writes, “Nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other” (293).


Three Crucial Boundary Breakdowns

  • Human & Animal
  • Animal/Human (organism) & Machine
  • Physical & Non-Physical

As for the first boundary, that between human and animal, Haraway insists that it has been dissolved by advances in biological science and evolutionary theory. The political consequences, she notes, have been borne out by the animal rights movement.

The second “leaky distinction” is that between organism and machine—the no-man’s-land of the Cyborg. Early machines, Haraway notes, could only mimic the agency and liveliness of living, breathing organisms. They could mimic genuine authorship while remaining resolutely artifacts. She writes, “They were not man, an author himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream. To think they were otherwise was paranoid. Now we are not so sure” (293). Robots with personal agency remained, for many years, the province of science fiction (see Asimov’s I, Robot, Kubrick’s 2001, or the recent film Ex Machina). However, recent advances in medical technology and artificial intelligence have started to blur the lines between wo/man and machine. The relentless juggernaut of technological progress gives us reason to believe that such distinctions will soon be a thing of the past.

The third boundary is that between the physical and non-physical. Haraway’s point in this section is less clear to me, but it seems to have something to do with the invisibility of technology and its ubiquity in our everyday lives—e.g. microelectronic devices and electromagnetic waves. She writes, “Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum, and these machines are eminently portable, mobile… People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque. Cyborgs are ether, quintessence” (294). It is the fluidity of the Cyborg as a social category that makes it so liberating. It is ethereal and ubiquitous and hard to pin down.


Where do we go from here?

The ultimate goal of Haraway’s “ironic political myth” is to liberate individuals from the oppressive, dichotomous social identities that have been constructed for them. To use Haslanger’s terminology, the category of “woman” or “female” is strongly pragmatically constructed. Haraway writes:

There is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices. Gender, race, or class consciousness is an achievement forced on us by the terrible historical experience of the contradictory social realities of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism. And who counts as ‘us’ in my own rhetoric? Which identities are available to ground such a potent political myth called ‘us’, and what could motivate enlistment in this collectivity? (295)

The answer to the problem of solidarity in a post-identity politics is what Haraway calls affinity—an amorphous category without any essential criteria for membership, composed of individuals who choose to share an “oppositional consciousness” and speak from an ironic standpoint that is not embedded in social categories. The tendency toward affinity and oppositional consciousness, Haraway explains, was “born of the skills for reading webs of power by those refused stable membership in the social categories of race, sex, or class” (296). The archetypal case of an affinity group is, somewhat counter-intuitively, “women of color”. Haraway explains that there is no essential criterion for identifying as a woman of color. In fact, the group is defined by a “conscious appropriation of negation.” Chicana or black women, for example, are doubly disqualified from having any justifiable standpoint from which to make claims about the world. The category “woman,” Haraway argues, traditionally negated (or excluded) all non-white women, while the category of black/chicano negated all non-black/chicano people, as well as all black/chicano women. Thus, “women of color” stand “at the bottom of a cascade of negative identities” (296). They are defined by what they are not. Therefore, their only option is to use this negative identity to their advantage by refusing to be categorized or naturalized at all. This is the same ironic standpoint achieved by the cyborg.


The Politics of Negative Identity

Haraway notes, “Taxonomies of feminism produce epistemologies to police deviation from official women’s experience” (297). Inevitably, a politics of identity excludes those who do not fit the accepted criteria for knowers of that category (e.g. women of color). The solution, therefore, is to provide no taxonomy and abandon all claims to an organic or natural standpoint. Haraway asks, however, “What kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective — and, ironically, socialist-feminist?” (297). The answer is Cyborg politics.

The power of the Cyborg myth lies in its status as a chimera of human and machine. Note, however, that the chimera is not simply the sum of its parts, but something more. A griffin is not afforded the same ontological status as a lion or an eagle; it is not part of the same conceptual scheme, but exists outside of nature. Likewise, the cyborg is a supernatural entity. It does not fit squarely into the conceptual scheme of male/white/hetero/etc dominance. It is a chimeric, non-reductive, liberating identity. This refusal to be naturalized or categorized is the source of its resilience: “These cyborgs are the people who refuse to disappear on cue, no matter how many times a ‘western’ commentator remarks on the sad passing of another primitive, another organic group done in by ‘Western’ technology, by writing” (313).

It is Haraway’s belief that socialist feminists have been guilty of “producing essentialist theory that suppressed women’s particularity and contradictory interests” through “unreflective participation in the logics, languages, and practices of white humanism and through searching for a single ground of domination to secure our revolutionary voice” (300). The only way forward for feminists in this post-modern age is to abandon the quixotic quest for solidarity through essentialized identities. The category of Man—and it’s complementary category Woman—are “the embodiment of Western logos” and the sooner we leave them behind the sooner we can build a truly inclusive epistemological and sociological system. As Haraway puts it, “Some differences are playful; some are poles of world historical systems of domination. ‘Epistemology’ is about knowing the difference” (300).



Is this a post-gender world?

Haraway’s Critique of MacKinnon

Where does this leave personal identity?
Haraway: “The cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the ‘West’s’ escalating dominations of abstract individuation, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency, a man in space” (292).

For Haraway, are all social distinctions strongly pragmatically constructed?

Haraway seems primarily concerned with the political effectiveness of her cyborg strategy; however, it is difficult to tell how serious she is about some of her more fanciful epistemological and ontological points. To what extent do you find “A Cyborg Manifesto” to be a philosophically sound text, as opposed to simply a new political strategy?

Existence and Independence

For this Monday we are examining general discussions of realism. This will set us up for a more pointed inquiry on Wednesday into the nature of the realist position for which Haslanger argues in her second chapter.

Preliminary Point: The state of the field.

Talk of “realism vs. antirealism” is a bit misleading. It tends to give the impression that there are two polemically divided camps of metaphysicians with the very nature of reality contested between them.

On the contrary, as both Miller (author of the SEP article) and Brock and Mares would like to suggest, questions of realism are generally localized to a particular domain and the various positions taken by realists and antirealists definitely do not constitute a clear binary.


Miller defines Generic Realism (GR) as follows:

Generic Realism:

Where a, b, c are distinctive objects of a subject matter,

A, b, and c and so one exist, and the fact that they exist and have properties such a s F-ness, G-ness and H-ness is… independent of anyone’s beliefs, linguistic practices, conceptual schemes, and so on.

Brock and Mares define Realism as follows:


Realism about a particular domain is the conjunction of the following two theses:

  1. There are facts or entities distinctive of that domain
  2. Their existence and nature is in some important sense objective and mind-independent.

Worth noting:

Brock and Mares point out that realism concerns both facts and entities and that it is possible for one to be a realist about facts in a domain, while denying that there are any real entities referenced by those facts. Miller acknowledges this (halfway through 1. Preliminaries), but does not admit such as a “realist” position. Given Brock and Mares discussion on page 2, do you think Miller’s dismissal of facts can be defended?


Broadly defined, an antirealist position denies either the existence thesis or the independence thesis. Importantly, anti-realists cannot coherently reject both theses, as the mind-dependence of any x necessitates the existence of x.


The Quinean argument for realism about existence:

  • We should believe that Fs exist if our accepted theories are ontologically committed to Fs.
  • The theories we accept are ontologically committed to Fs.

C            Therefore, we should believe that Fs exist.

However, such an argument for realism commits us to an ontology that is, in many cases, undesirable.

Quine suggests that we should either

  1. Eliminate the aspects of our theory that entail the problematic entities
  2. Paraphrase away such ontological commitments (though this sounds somewhat similar to later discussion of non-factualism, Quines intent here is that we should clarify our language, not treat it as non-referential).
  3. In the last resort, accept the ontological commitments wholeheartedly (at least insofar as they are extensions of our best current theories).

Brock and Mares go on to discuss non-classical logics as presenting further opportunities for ontological disavowal. These are a bit beside the point; however I was interested in their discussion of a “substitutional” existential qualifier (pgs. 14-15).

It seems to me that to claim that “∃x(x is a magic dragon) just is the sentence “Puff is a magic dragon””is to invoke the earlier distinction raised between realism about facts and entities. Am I wrong?


Brock and Mares lay out the antirealist position in a different way. To be an antirealist about Fs is either to:

  1. Show that our accepted theories are not ontologically committed to Fs.
  2. Or, that even if our accepted theories are ontologically committed to Fs, there is no reason to believe that Fs exist.

The antirealist strategy:

  • If Fs exists, then they must be either sui generis properties or reducible to some other kind of property.
  • If Fs are claimed to be sui generis properties, then use Parsimony.
  • If Fs are claimed to be reducible, then use Differential Attitudes to show that they are not reducible, and follow through with a knockout Parsimony.


Parsimony follows from the principle of Ockham’s Razor. Brock and Mares argue that, properly understood, the principle of Parsimony asserts that, ceteris paribus, the better theory is the one which posits qualitatively fewer entities.

Thus, superfluous kinds of entities should not be included in our theories/explanations.

Two notes on Parsimony:

Qualitative parsimony counsels minimizing the number of distinct kinds of entities: a theory which posits apples and elephants is worse (ceteris paribus) than one that posits only elephants.

Quantitative parsimony counsels minimizing the number of entities in general: a theory positing 13 apples is worse than that which posits 1 apple.

Qualitative parsimony is the one they take to be the more important form.

Further, Parsimony is to be understood as not merely a deletion rule (counseling agnosticism about the superfluous entities) but a replacement rule (counseling the replacement of belief in x with the belief in ~x). The important point here is that a mere deletion rule does not commit us to antirealism, just not realism. Quick question: why would sustained agnosticism about the reality of the world not classify one as an antirealist? At the very least it seems that you’d have to be wielding a fairly unnatural (or non-lay person) epistemology and resulting ontology. Relatedly, but distinct, is agnosticism a truly viable option in theory construction and mediation?

The antirealist argument from Parsimony is as follows:

  • Fs are superfluous to our explanatory needs.
  • If Fs are superfluous to our explanatory needs, then Fs do not exist.

C            Therefore, Fs do not exist.

It seems that premise 2 overstates the earlier intuition: that “superfluous entities should not be included in our theories/explanations” does not entail their non-existence.

However, 2 may be supported as follows:

We are entitled to the conclusions of inductive inference, especially when we are in command of the total relevant body of evidence.

An argument against the existence of an entity may be structured as such:

  • The total relevant evidence to x is represented by our observations of x.
  • Nothing observed thus far is an x.

C            Nothing is an x.

In other words: lack of evidence in support of x’s existence counts as evidence for its nonexistence.

This just is the principal of parsimony: entities which are not explanatorily necessary for a theory are superfluous and should be eliminated. Here, the evidence or lack thereof for the existence of an entity is that entity’s explanatory power. If an entity has no explanatory power, and thus there is no evidence for it, then it is not real.

However, it seems to me that there are ways to push back on this argument (although admittedly they involve denying some degree of power to induction).

First, the leap from lack of evidence for x to evidence-against the existence of x seems unsafe. Given TRE, this leap becomes safer, yet I still wonder why agnosticism about the existence of x is not the more appropriate position (now I’ve contradicted my early remarks).

Further, given what I believe to be the impossibility of ever holding TRE, isn’t agnosticism even more appropriate? Do our principles of induction really work as confidently as Brock and Mares would like to suggest?

Regardless, if Parsimony holds, then the antirealist about x has a powerful weapon against the realist about x who posits x as Sui generis.


If instead the realist claims that x is not of kind to itself, but is rather reducible to another real entity y, then the antirealist may employ the Differential Attitudes to attack x.

A quick revision to Parsimony: because reducible entities are not truly of a different kind than their reduction, they don’t add to the qualitative milieu of entities which Parsimony counsels against. Thus, Parsimony* is as follows:


Superfluous and irreducibly distinct kinds of entities should not be included in our theories.

As such, the realist is allowed to keep ontological commitments to those kinds of entities which are superfluous only in that they are reducible.

Thus, if x is reducible to a distinct and non-superfluous entity, Parsimony will not work against it.

The anti-realist about x, following the strategy above, will instead attempt to claim that x is not truly reducible and is thus irreducibly superfluous.

This is commonly done by way of Differential Attitudes (DA)

DA asserts that, as regards x, we have attitudes towards x which are dissimilar from our attitudes towards the reduced phenomena y.

The antirealist argument from DA is as follows:

  • Subjects have a certain attitude towards x.
  • Subjects do not have that same attitude towards y.

C            X is not reducible to y.

Parsimony is then employed:

  • x is irreducibly distinct.
  • X is superfluous to our explanatory needs.
  • If x is superfluous to our explanatory needs and x is irreducibly distinct, then x does not exist.

C           x does not exist.

I wonder whether this is totally watertight. It seems that the transition from “x is not reducible to y” to “x is irreducibly distinct” is not valid. Wouldn’t all possible reductions of x have to be negated?


Error Theory, see below. Generally: In domain y, statements about that domain are false, though we may believe them. “There is a gap between what we actually believe and what we should believe.” Challenges P1 of the Quinean argument above.

Prefix Fictionalism. Claims about domain y are true, but they contain an implicit prefix “according to theory z”. Thus, facts don’t really reference an underlying ontology. Theories are self-consistent fictions, and they are useful. Challenges P2 of the Quinean argument.

Instrumentalism/Fictionalism: claims about domain y are uniformly false, but this is not a problem. Our goals of discourse in domain y are not truth, but pragmatism, or some other value. Denies P1 of the Quinean argument.

Non-Factualism (expressivism): statements about a domain do not represent facts, but rather express some desire or feeling. Denies P2 of the Quinean argument.


Like Brock and Mares, Miller describes two ways in which the antirealist may reject the existence thesis in a given domain.

  1. The distinctive objects of the domain do not exist.
  2. The distinctive objects of the domain exist, but do not instantiate any of the properties distinctive of the domain.

Miller uses error theory and arithmetic to illustrate the first, and error theory and morality to illustrate the second.

Error theory is the idea that our theories about a given domain are simply wrong, when we make claims about that domain, those claims are false.

Platonic realism about numbers is the idea that numbers exist in some robustly independent sense (not causally related to human minds).

The argument against Platonic realism is pretty cool, so I’ll throw that in here:

  • Platonic arithmetic realism is true (posited for reductio ad absurdum).
  • If Platonic arithmetic realism is true, then mathematical objects are acuasal and the objects and the facts about them are mind-independent.
  • If a causal explanation of arithmetic reliability is possible, then mathematical objects are causal.
  • If a non-causal explanation of arithmetic reliability is possible, then mathematical objects and their respective fact are mind-dependent.
  • If an explanation of arithmetic reliability is possible, then it must be either causal or acausal.

C1        If Platonic arithmetic realism is true, then an explanation of arithmetic reliability is impossible.

  • If it is impossible to explain the reliability of our beliefs about a domain, then we should not believe in the reality of that domain.

C2        Platonic arithmetic realism is true, but we should not believe in the reality (strong sense) of arithmetic.

C3        Platonic arithmetic realism is not true.

I wonder whether C2 is truly absurd. Perhaps there are good reasons why we should not believe in the reality of something, even if it is real?

Miller addresses the second antirealist possibility by the example of Mackie’s moral error theory.

Suffice it to say that Mackie argues as such:

  • If there exist moral facts, then they are objectively true and categorically prescriptive facts.
  • There are no such facts.

C          Moral theories (and the facts that would follow) are not true.

Mackie’s argument is motivated by a reflection on the nature of an objective and prescriptive fact. If there were objective and prescriptive moral facts, they would be of a sort totally alien to our normal perceptions of morality. Mackie seems to suggest that in our perception of action, there is often moral ambiguity. If it were the case that moral facts existed, then they would be imminent in our experience of reality and they would prescribe courses of action (think roadsigns).

I agree with Wright’s response to Mackie’s error-theory. If Mackie is (and he is) committed to some normative understanding of morality, then why not cash out moral truth in accordance with those norms. In other words, holding moral truth to such fake heights seems disingenuous if one is also willing to accept that moral discourse is better if it leads to “social co-operation” and worse if it does not. Can’t the truth of moral facts be determined by their consequences? Would that no longer be a realist position on morality?


As mentioned above, antirealists may choose to instead attack the independence thesis of Realism.

Brock and Mares lay out two popular ways in which this has been done: Social Constructivism and Response Dependence.


The distinction between causal dependence and metaphysical dependence:

Causal dependence: A domain of Fs causally depends on us if and only if we play an essential causal role in bringing the Fs into existence; that is, the Fs would not have come into existence in the first place had human beings, and our concomitant actions, intentions and mental states not existed.​

Metaphysical dependence: A domain of Fs metaphysically depends on us if and only if the continued existence of our minds is required for the continued existence of the Fs.

Causal dependence is trivial and uninteresting to an antirealist. Metaphysical dependence is the crucial concept.

Brock and Mares cash metaphysical dependence out in terms of psychological dependence:

X is psychologically dependent if its continued existence is dependent on the existence of our minds and on the continued intention of our minds.

Thus, money is psychologically constructed and thus dependent on our minds because, were everyone in the world to forget about the concept of currency, money would cease to exist (though plenty of printed paper slips would still be running around).

This account of social construction seems quite similar to Sally Haslanger’s. For Haslanger, antirealism is unwarranted in the domain of gender dynamics because the power structures that disadvantage women are not merely metaphysically dependent on our minds, but are rather embodied by all people and materialized in our social world, to the point where they become “natural” and only causally (trivially) dependent. Is this compatible with her discussion of objectivity and objectification?


RD is the idea that some facts about entities are mind-dependent in that their a priori truth conditions implicate our mental responses to the respective entities. For example: x is humorous if x arouses laughter.

RD:  A concept F is response-dependent if and only if there is a bi-conditional of the form “x is F if and only if x is disposed to produce response R in subjects S in conditions C” that is knowable a priori.

Brock and Mares make four important points of clarification:

  1. It must be a priori. The authors suggest that affirmations of the mass of objects are somehow “too fortuitous” to count. I need further clarification on this first point, is it that this is somehow a posterior?
  2. The subject of the bi-conditional must be a mind.
  3. Germane responses only include changes of mental states.
  4. The C conditions must not be stated in a trivial “whatever it takes” way. In other words (I think) you can’t try too hard to make it seem a priori response-dependent.

Interestingly, response-dependence does not entail metaphysical dependence. Because the properties of objects which entail responses are intrinsic to those objects, it would not matter if humans ever existed, those properties would still exist.

Given that RD advocates intrinsic natures, can it really be a principle of antirealism?

Brock and Mares argue yes:

  1. Response-dependent concepts are essentially connected to mental states. RD Properties of objects exist only insofar as they are capable of producing sensations in us, given the proper back ground conditions. (Which, to address the previous worry, can include human existence).
  2. There is no reason to think that even any mind will experience the same properties of the object, only minds like ours.
  3. Because RD concepts can be known a priori to be produced within us given the proper C conditions, response dependence is infallibilist; a priori implies necessary. Infallibility is inimical to realism.

What if the realist responds to this argument by becoming a reductionist about the mind? On this account, the mind is real (though wholly reducible to brain chemistry) and red things are red because they produce the “red” response in our minds. However, it seems that by reducing the mental to the physical, the realist would have sidestepped the antirealist motivation for the notion of response dependence. Surely,  the antirealist wishes to suggest that there is something wholly fabricated, mental or even contingent (?) about our experience of some concepts. But if our experience of those concepts is determined merely by our brain chemistry, then in what way are those concepts not real? In other words, if humor is just the proper stimulation of certain neurons, how is that any less real than any other causal relationship?

Feminist Perspectives on Objectification

Feminist Perspectives on Objectification

This article is composed of six sections that deal with different facets of the concept of objectification in a feminist context. For a definition of what constitutes objectification, refer to Nussbaum’s criteria outlined in the introduction. I will note that I am unclear on whether the sum of these conditions is sufficient for objectification or if one alone is sufficient for objectification. It seems to me that certain criteria are sufficient on their own (instrumentality) but others are not (fungibility). Additionally, Nussbaum’s criteria have been criticized for being too inclusive. If the use of a taxi driver constitutes objectification under her conditions do the criteria for objectification need to be more exclusive?

Kant on Sexuality and Objectification

According to Kant, an individual is objectified when they are lowered to the status of an object. This is a problematic position because it is one that denies the humanity of an individual or treats an individual’s humanity as a means to an end. Kantian humanity is an individual’s rational nature and capacity for rational choice and it is the quality that differentiates humans from animals and inanimate objects. Accordingly, it would seem that Kant believes rationality to be the essence of human nature regardless of gender. To objectify a woman is to ignore a woman’s capacity for rational thought.
Kant feels that monogamous marriages are the only safe spaces for sexual expression where there is no fear of objectification because they guarantee reciprocity in the process of surrender and ownership between the two partners. In this context Kant seems to accept some degree of objectification. Is a sexual relationship in a monogamous marriage truly equitable and why is this form of objectification acceptable?

Kant also believes in affirming the individuals ability for rational choice yet will not morally allow individuals to choose to sell their body. Is this coherent or is prostitution potentially justifiable in the context of Kantian philosophy?

Pornography and Objectification

Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin have famously argued that objectification and resulting gender inequality is primarily created and sustained by the consumption of pornography. They believe that pornography defines the role of women to be sex objects for the consumption of men. Both MacKinnon and Dworkin share Kant’s interpretation of objectification and believe that pornography denies the humanity of women. Additionally problematic is that pornography portrays women as enjoying their objectification, further perpetuating the norm of objectification. There is no way that a woman can freely choose to become a pornographic actress either, as she is forced into this role given the sexual inequality of our society. Do we agree with this claim?
Cameron and Frazer have criticized this claim however. They believe MacKinnon and Dworkin fail to acknowledge the male capacity to interpret pornography as an inaccurate representation of gender dynamics.
Ronald Dworkin also objects to the claim that pornography is the primary cause of objectification. He believes that while pornography certainly objectifies women, it is not the primary obstacle to sexual equality. These obstacles present themselves in every facet of our culture and combating sexual inequality requires a more dramatic societal restructuring.

Feminine Appearance and Objectification

Most heavily featured thinker to comment on objectification and its repercussions in feminine appearance is Sandra Bartky.

By focusing heavily on their appearance, women are treating themselves as objects.
Not incoherent for an individual to be both both objectifier and objectified.
Bartky explains that women are simultaneously objectified by men and objectify themselves. A woman is a like a prisoner in Bentham’s Panopticon prison and therefore need to be physically appealing to men.

Bartky claims that because of the pervasively gendered feminine norms women’s preoccupation with their bodies has become regarded as natural; women have internalized this norm. Therefore it is difficult for women to escape objectification. The result of this claim seems to be that women only care about their bodies because of the influence of male objectification. However, this claim seems pretty strong to me. Do we agree with Bartky? Is a woman’s preoccupation with her body, whether she is proud or ashamed, invariably caused by male objectification?

Objectivity and Objectification

Haslanger and Langton deal extensively with objectivity how the norm of Assumed
Objectivity leads to objectification. We have already discussed, to some degree, Haslanger’s thoughts on the link between objectivity and objectification. Just to recap, Haslanger believes that in attempting to be objective, the objectifier resorts to a norm of aperspectivity, failing to see that his observations are a result of his social position and that he has an impact on the observed circumstances. Because women have become what men want them to be through objectification, the observed regularities in the “nature” of women are not natural at all.

Langton believes that the norm of Assumed Objectivity is problematic and should be rejected because such a norm leads to ideas that are not sufficient for knowledge. The problems are:

1. Assumed Objectivity leads to false beliefs.
2. and Assumed Objectivity leads to true but unjustified beliefs.

In order to meet the sufficient conditions for knowledge, an idea must be both true and justified. The result of the norm Assumed Objectivity, according to Langton, is that when people in a social hierarchy operate under such a norm they make the world conform to their belief rather then conforming their belief to the (natural) world.

The Possibility of Positive Objectification

Several thinkers, namely Sobel and Green, believe that objectification is either benign or positive. While Sobel believes that people are merely objects, Green believes humans are simultaneously objects and “something more than objects.” Sobel seems to question the Kantian emphasis on human “humanity.” Green, however, believes it is only wrong to treat a person as merely means to an end, but that you can morally treat a person as a means to an end if their humanity is still respected. In these ways, the two thinkers support a benign form of objectification.

Nussbaum claims that there are in fact positive forms of objectification such as the ones that take place in an intimate setting, i.e. the using of a lover’s stomach as a pillow. She believes that negative objectification only takes place in the absence of equality, respect and consent.

The Futility of Specifying the Marks and Features of Objectification

Bauer’s claim does not seem strong to me. How can anything be recognized if there are no parameters by which we judge its existence. Is there a way to defend the strength of Bauer’s argument? Or do we feel that it is a fundamentally weak claim?

Haslanger on Objectivity & Objectification

Haslanger makes three central claims in this chapter:

A. She argues for a weakly gendered rationality (WGR): Some norms of rationality are weakly gendered.

B. She argues against strongly gendered rationality (SGR): All norms of rationality are strongly gendered.

C. She argues for contextually grounded rationality (CGR): Some norms of rationality are contextually grounded in a non-gendered social role that collaborates in sexual objectification.

A.  Weakly Gendered Rationality

Haslanger argues for WGR as follows:

P1. Assumed Objectivity (AO) is a norm of rationality.

P2. AO is weakly gendered.

WGR. So, some norms of rationality are weakly gendered.

Premise 1: AO is a norm of rationality

Let AO denote the following conjunction of principles:

  • Epistemic neutrality: take a “genuine” regularity in the behavior of something to be a consequence of its nature.
  • Practical neutrality: constrain your decision making (and so your action) to accommodate things’ natures.
  • Absolute aperspectivity: count observed regularities as “genuine” regularities just in case:
    • the observations occur under normal circumstances (for example, by normal observers),
    • the observations are not conditioned by the observer’s social position, and
    • the observer has not influenced the behavior of the items under observation.
  • Assumed aperspectivity: if a regularity is observed, then assume that:
    • the circumstances are normal,
    • the observations are not conditioned by the observers’ social position, and
    • the observer has not influenced the behavior of the items under observation.

The conjunction of the first three principles—what Haslanger calls “absolute objectivity”—certainly figures in much scientific inquiry—one of our paradigmatic forms of rational activity. Consequently, absolute objectivity is a norm of rationality. Assumed aperspectivity, on the other hand, makes all observed regularities “genuine,” and thereby a consequence of its nature. That almost certainly is too strong. After all, most rational people recognize that some correlations are spurious. So, why should we actually think that AO is a norm of rationality?


Premise 2: AO is weakly gendered.

Haslanger offers a lengthier argument for this premise:

W1.     A norm is weakly gendered iff it is appropriate to a gender role.

W2.     A norm is appropriate to a social role iff satisfying the norm would significantly contribute to reliable success in that role.

W3.     A sexual objectifier is a gender role.

W4.     Satisfying AO would significantly contribute to reliable “success” in sexual objectification.

P2.       So, AO is weakly gendered.

W1 and W2 are stipulated as definitions. I won’t discuss these, but do you agree or disagree with their central consequence?

A norm is weakly gendered iff satisfying the norm would significantly contribute to reliable success in a gender role.

Can you think of other senses in which norms can be “weakly gendered”? (You should ask yourself analogous questions for anything else I label as a “stipulation” or “definition.”)

Let’s turn to W3: Following MacKinnon, Haslanger defines a sexual objectifier as someone who stands in a position of eroticized dominance over others. An eroticized submissive participant is both viewed and treated as object of an objectifier’s desire, and is also viewed as for the satisfaction of the objectifier’s desire (i.e. instrumentally). Traditionally, men have been objectifiers; women have been objectified. Hence, being sexual objectifier is a gender role.

Turn now to W4: Satisfying AO would significantly contribute to one’s ability to “succeed” as an objectifier, as preexisting inequalities between objectifiers (men) and the individuals they objectify (women) will be observed, and hence treated as “genuine” or “natural.” This, of course, reinforces the power asymmetry between men and women. Indeed, since AO treats all observed regularities as consequences of the “natural” order, it will significantly contribute to the success of any beneficiary of the status quo (gendered or otherwise).

B.   Against Strongly Gendered Rationality

Some feminists argue that there is something inherently gendered about purporting to be rational or objective. One of the leading arguments to this effect comes from Catharine MacKinnon. Haslanger disagrees. Her objection to MacKinnon is as follows:

P1. Assumed objectivity (AO) is a norm of rationality.

P2. A norm is strongly gendered iff it is grounded (either constitutively or contextually) in a gender role.

P3. A sexual objectifier is a gender role. (W3, above)

P4. AO is neither constitutively nor contextually grounded in sexual

~SGR.   So, some norms of rationality are not strongly gendered.

We’ve already discussed P1 and P3. As with WGR, P2 is simply a stipulation. So, most of our attention should go towards P4. However, before proceeding, it’s worth noting a dialectical space that Haslanger does not explore. I’ve defined SGR in a way that renders Haslanger’s argument valid, though in the chapter, there would appear to be room for an intermediate position that she doesn’t discuss, viz.

SGR*. Some norms of rationality are strongly gendered.

The negation of this is much stronger than ~SGR, and hence much harder to establish:

~SGR*. No norms of rationality are strongly gendered.

Consequently, the fact that AO is not strongly gendered doesn’t say much against SGR*, unless AO is the most promising candidate for a strongly gendered norm of rationality. Thoughts?

Let’s go back to P4. Haslanger argues for this thusly:

S1.          A norm is constitutively grounded in a social role iff satisfying the norm entails one’s participation in a particular social role.

S2.          A norm is contextually grounded in a social role iff, given background conditions, satisfying that norm is or would be sufficient for functioning in that role.

S3.          For all norms n, satisfying n entails participation in sexual objectification only if satisfying n entails eroticized dominance over others.

S4.          Under no background conditions would satisfying AO entail eroticized dominance over others.

P4.          So, AO is neither constitutively nor contextually grounded in sexual objectification.

As before S1 and S2 are stipulations. S3 follows from MacKinnon’s definition of objectification (discussed above). S4 is highly plausible, as AO says nothing about power or desire. (Indeed, it points to a weakness in Haslanger’s formulation of contextually grounded norms, for one can gerrymander background conditions so that anything entails anything else. Consequently, everything contextually grounds everything, so the concept is trivial without a more precise account of “background conditions.”)

C.   Contextually Grounded Rationality

Finally, Haslanger argues that while AO is not grounded in sexual objectification, it is contextually grounded in another social role that is quite common and that enables or “collaborates” in sexual objectification.

C1.          A norm is contextually grounded in a social role iff, given background conditions, satisfying that norm is or would be sufficient for functioning in that role.

C2.          For all norms n, satisfying n entails participation in collaboration only if satisfying n entails treating observed regularities as consequences of a group’s nature.

C3.          Under some background conditions, satisfying AO entails treating observed regularities as consequences of a group’s nature.

C4.          AO is a norm of rationality.

CGR.       So, some norms of rationality are contextually grounded in a non-gendered social role that collaborates in sexual objectification.

Very roughly, this collaborator has the same “projective beliefs” about women as an objectifier, but lacks either the desire and/or the power characteristic of an objectifier. Hence, women who see themselves and other women as “naturally submissive” can be collaborators.


Haslanger, Introduction

Haslanger lays out the three major divisions in the book: §1 social construction; §2 race and gender; and §3 epistemological and methodological issues in philosophy. She concludes with a broader discussion of how her book instantiates a particular kind of social theory and critique (§4).

  1. Social Construction

The term “social construction” is used widely in the social sciences and humanities. However, it means very different things to different theorists. Haslanger’s “overarching goal is to clarify and defend the more specific proposals that race and gender are socially constructed, and to situate these proposals within a broader philosophical and political picture” (2012: 5).

Haslanger identifies three philosophical questions concerning social construction:

  • Realism: in what sense are social constructs real and in what sense are they illusory?
  • Naturalism: what is the precise connection (if any) between social constructions and natural facts?
  • Kinds: do social categories such as ‘women’ or ‘black’ have determine meanings? For that matter, what does it mean to have a determinate meaning?
  1. Race and Gender

Haslanger focuses on two social constructs in particular: race and gender. She argues for a “focal analysis” that defines these constructs as “social classes.” A focal analysis treats a phenomenon as focal or core for the purposes at hand, and then explains other phenomena by their relationship to that focal point. For Haslanger, the core phenomenon involves patterns of social relationships that result in gendered and racial dominance.

Haslanger introduces some distinctions that will figure in subsequent chapters:

  • ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are genders, and thus are social categories; ‘female’ and ‘male’ are sexes and thus are biological categories.
  • ‘Black’ and ‘White’ (uppercase) are races, and thus are social categories; ‘black’ and ‘white’ (lowercase) are “colors.” (It’s unclear if they’re colors are biological categories.)

Haslanger holds that both race and gender are real, because being interpreted as a woman, man, Black, or White, has implications for one’s social position. Moreover, “the social relations defining gender and race consist in a set of attitudes and patterns of treatment towards bodies as they are perceived (or imagined) through frameworks of salience implicit in the attitudes” (2012: 7). As a result, if our attitudes radically change, our existing genders and races, most notably woman, man, Black, and White can also change (but, absent a biological intervention, different sexes and colors won’t change.)

Several questions emerge from Haslanger’s analysis of race and gender:

  • Intersectionality: How exactly do race, gender, and other social categories interact with each other?
  • Structure and agency: What is the relationship between individual agents and larger social structures?
  • Firstand third-person perspectives: How should analyses of race and gender triangulate between first- and third-person accounts of the relevant social phenomena?
  • Material and cultural factors: How do material and social conditions interact in our understanding of social structures?


  1. Language, Knowledge, and Method

Haslanger notes that her analyses of race and gender don’t accord with common sense. Following Quine, Haslanger denies a sharp line between theoretical and non-theoretical (everyday, commonsense) uses of a term. She also adopts semantic externalism—the view that the meanings of terms are not confined to what an individual speaker intends, but also depend on the social and natural environments in which a speaker uses a term—about race and gender. Her position thereby downplays the importance of common sense: first-person accounts of race and gender aren’t the sole arbiters of what those concepts mean. Consequently, Haslanger’s analyses are to be assessed “holistically, in light of broader considerations about our purposes, the inquiry we are engaged in, the community we are a part of, and expert information from those with greater empirical knowledge of the domain” (2012: 14).


  1. Social Theory and Social Critique

Haslanger sees part of her task as that of “institutional critique.” Institutional critique involves a description of a social practice in a manner that highlights its normatively relevant features, and an evaluation that practice as good, bad, right, wrong, just, unjust, useful, useless, etc. Generally, philosophers excel at evaluation, but falter at description; non-philosophers have the opposite problem. Haslanger highlights the importance of getting both parts of critique right. Critiques don’t simply involve accurate descriptions; they also involve describing a social practice’s normatively relevant features. Since moral theories provide some of the richest repositories for describing these features, and moral theories are naturally seen as tools for evaluation, description requires evaluation. Conversely, moral theories must provide evaluations and prescriptions that are effective. However, effective evaluations and prescriptions require good descriptions of the social practices one wishes to change.

  • Ideology Critique

While institutional critique focuses on changing social norms, laws, and practices, ideology critique focuses on “the conceptual and narrative frameworks that we employ in understanding and navigating the world, especially the social world” (2012: 17). Genealogical ideological critiques often highlight the historical and social contingency of concepts otherwise taken for granted. Ideologies can take many forms, but they all make a difference to with respect to social inequalities. When ideology is not recognized as such, it is hegemonic.

Ideology critique is especially important because a social practice’s structural features are often opaque to its practitioners. A social structure is a set of interdependent dispositions to respond to certain parts of the world through beliefs, desires, and habitual responses.

  • Critical Theory

Ideology critique is part of critical theory. Critical theory begins with an assumption that current conditions are unjust. It then engages in the aforementioned process of description and evaluation of those conditions. Like all good theories, critical theory aims to be empirically adequate; but it also must be useful to the social movement of which it is a part. Critical theory takes knowers to be “situated,” i.e. “what we believe or understand about something is affected by how we are related to it” (2012: 24).


  1. Questions
  • Page 7: Haslanger draws the following analogy: gender: sex :: race: color. However, the biological categories, female and male, are in much better shape than the biological categories, black, white, So, how credible is this analogy? (See page 9 for a more precise definition of color = the set of physical features used as evidence of ancestral links to a particular geographical region.)
  • Page 7: Haslanger seems to argue that if something has demonstrable social implications, then it’s real. But being labeled as a witch had demonstrable social implications, yet we wouldn’t claim that witches are real. Is this too loose of a criterion for reality?
  • Does Haslanger’s naturalism, externalism, etc. make her position more or less difficult to refute than a position that simply tried to capture the everyday or commonsense conception of gender and race?
  • Pages 22-23: What happens if a critical theory is wrong about what is unjust? How can that be settled if “not all rational inquirers must endorse” a critique’s assumptions?
  • Page 24: As defined, situated knowing seems to be a completely empty thesis. Of course we have to stand in some relation to what we believe or understand. Presumably Haslanger has more specific relations in mind. What are they? Social relations? If so, then this seems like an empirical hypothesis, and one that’s liable to be refuted by any cross-cultural invariance we see in beliefs/understandings.