Social Kinds, Conceptual Analysis, and the Operative Concept: A Reply to Haslanger
Sally Haslanger (2006) is concerned with the debate between social constructionists and error theorists about a given category, such as race or gender. For example, social constructionists about race claim that the term “race” refers to a social kind, whereas error theorists claim that the term “race” is an empty term, that is, nothing belongs to this category. It seems that this debate depends in part on the meaning of the corresponding expression, and this, according to some theorists, depends in turn on our intuitions as competent speakers. But then, what should we say if competent users of the expressions “race” and “gender” understand the terms so that being a natural or biological property is a necessary condition in order to fall under the term? If that were the case, then it would seem that a social constructionist view would be out of the question. Haslanger (2005, 2006) has argued that a social constructionist view could still be defended in that situation. In order to argue for this, she draws on the classical arguments for semantic externalism (Putnam, 1975, Burge, 1979, Kripke, 1980), which show that the intuitions of competent speakers concerning the nature of a given category, and the objective type that actually unifies the instances of that category, may come apart. In this paper I will argue that the arguments for semantic externalism concerning natural kinds do not really offer support for Haslanger’s claim that ordinary intuitions concerning social kinds are not relevant.
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