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The deconstruction of social unreality: How to naturalise social facts


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Speaker(s): Dan Sperber
Chair: Dr Roman Frigg

Recorded on 17 November 2011 in Old Theatre, Old Building.

Many social scientists and philosophers - John Searle in particular in The Construction of Social Reality - argue that social facts exist in virtue of being collectively recognized. I want to debunk this view and offer a truly naturalistic (but non-reductionist) alternative. I characterize social facts in terms of causal chains where the causal links are alternatively mental and environmental. I suggest a way to reconceptualise the social domain that raises new questions and allows new answers, while preserving the knowledge and competence accumulated in the traditional social sciences.

Dan Sperber is a French social and cognitive scientist. He is the author numerous articles in anthropology, linguistics, philosophy and psychology and of three books: Rethinking Symbolism (Cambridge UP 1975), On Anthropological Knowledge (Cambridge UP 1985), and Explaining Culture (Blackwell 1996). He holds an emeritus research professorship at the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, a recurrent visiting professorship at the Department of Philosophy of the Central European University in Budapest, and is the director of the International Cognition and Culture Institute. He is Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, Foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and member of the Academia Europaea. He has been the first laureate of the Claude Lévi-Strauss Prize in 2009.

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