Publication Date: 1st July

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Social metaphysics may sound like an oxymoron but perhaps this is only because we are used to thinking of metaphysical questions as somehow divorced from the messiness of the social world – philosophy’s impulse towards the God’s eye view. The objects of social metaphysical enquiry may not be quite real enough for the nostalgic metaphysician but neither are they devoid of any philosophically interesting sense of reality; quite the opposite
in fact.


In the opening articles of this issue Linda Martín Alcoff and Katherine Ritchie offer overviews of some fundamental philosophical questions related to race, gender, and the nature of social groups. Central to these essays, as to the others in the section, is the role of social construction. If, as many argue, race and gender are social constructions, what kind of existence and reality do they have? Jemima Repo uses Michel Foucault’s geneaological approach to explore the social context within which the concept of gender arose, showing that, far from arising as a tool of feminist politics and emancipation, it in fact emerged within the context of psychiatry and post-war social control. Social construction raises another crucial question: if a social identity is merely held together by convention rather than being rooted in biological necessity, are we not free as individuals to defy these conventions? The question of whether we can change our gender and our race are taken up by Kathleen Stock and Nicole Souter respectively.

The second section looks at the question of identity through the lens of work. The three contributions are built around three questions, with Nicholas N. Smith asking what it is to think progressively about work, Katie Kadue asking how we are to distinguish the meaningful from the menial in both intellectual and domestic labour, and Josh Cohen asking whether an ethics of non-work is possible. Elsewhere, Michael Lewis imagines a response to a university manager asking continental philosophy to identify itself, Justin E.H. Smith reminds us not to overlook our free subjectivity, and Brian O’Connor wonders why philosophers have such a problem with idleness. We round things off with our regular columns, ‘Anthropo(s)cene’ and ‘The Art of Questioning’, focusing on animals and the Middle Ages respectively.

Summer 2019: Identities

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