Comparing Conceptions of Social Ontology: Emergent Social Entities and/or Institutional Facts?

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Lawson, Tony 

It is commonplace, if erroneous, to suppose that worldviews (or ontological con-ceptions) that underpin, or are presupposed by, substantive analyses and/ormethodological stances are somehow beyond interrogation. This is thought tobe especially so regardingsocialontological orientations (see discussion in Lawson2015a). To the contrary ontological conceptions, including those relating to thesocial realm, are easily shown to be subject to empirical assessment in both abso-lute terms (see e.g. Lawson 2003 chapter 2; Lawson 2015a) and in comparison tothe explanatory power of competing accounts (see e.g., Lawson 2015a, 2015c).In advancing a specific theory of social ontology over the years I have in factoften contrasted the conception defended with the (largely implicit) ontology ofclosed systems of isolated atoms presupposed by very many social theorists --and most especially by contemporary economists, not least in their heavy relianceon methods of mathematical modelling (see Lawson 2015c). In this, however, mypurpose in making the comparison was not so much to garner additional explan-atory support for the ontological conception I defend as to employ the (demon-strable) explanatory superiority of the latter to cast doubt on the wisdom of theprevailing uncritical reliance on methods of mathematical modelling in social the-ory (an emphasis that in modern mainstream economics yet continues unabated).

5205 Social and Personality Psychology, 44 Human Society, 50 Philosophy and Religious Studies, 52 Psychology, 5003 Philosophy, 4410 Sociology
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Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour
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I am indebted to the Independent Social Research Foundation for funding the research on which this paper draws.