Pluralities, Counterparts, and Groups


I propose a theory of groups based on pluralities and counterparts. Roughly put, according to the theory, a group is a plurality of entities at a time. This theory comes with a counterpart-theoretic semantics for modal and temporal sentences about groups. Altogether, the resulting theory of groups is akin to the stage theory of material objects: both take the items they analyze to exist at a single time, and both use counterparts to satisfy certain conditions relating to the modal properties, temporal properties, and coincidence properties of those items.


2 thoughts on “Pluralities, Counterparts, and Groups

  1. Massin, Olivier says:

    Thanks Isaac for that excellent presentation. Here is a general question coming from a more descriptive corner of social ontology. In this corner one main question is that of the cements of groups: what hold groups together? Why is a plurality a group of a kind rather that of another kind? Why is another plurality not a group of that kind? Answers are of the form: the cement of societies are contracts/collective intentionality; the cement of crowds are affective contagion; the cement of communities is solidarity/empathy; the cement of families are blood link; the cement of generation is date of birth, etc. etc.

    Such inquiries *seem”* to imply that groups is not just pluralities, but pluralities + kind of glues. But I suspect they may in the end be compatible with your approach, although I’m not quite sure how. So…how would a counterpart approach make room for such investigations into varieties of social glues? (sorry this is a very general question)

    1. Wilhelm, Isaac says:

      Thanks for this question, Olivier. If I understand you right, you’re asking what unifying principle(s) (what you call `cement’) might characterize a given group. In other words, the question concerns what makes certain sorts of groups—societies, crowds, families, etc.—the very sorts of groups that they are. If that’s what you’re asking, then my answer is something like this: the unifying principle is some rule that helps us describe certain pluralities at times in a convenient sort of way. The unifying principle is not part of the group; it is not a component of what the group is. Rather, the unifying principle is a convenient description which we use to talk about the group.

      Perhaps it helps to draw an analogy with sets. One might ask: what `holds’ sets together? What unifying principles underlie certain sets? To make these questions concrete, consider the set of all homo sapiens. What `glue’—what unifying principle—underlies this set? Here’s a reasonable answer: it is unified by all its members having certain genes. Now, one might be tempted to draw the following conclusion: this set is not just its members, but rather, its members plus some principle about having certain specific genes. I would not draw this conclusion, however. I think that the set is, basically, just its members. The unifying principle is a description which we use to talk about those members: we use facts about certain organisms having certain genes in order to facilitate talking about, and theorizing about, the set of all homo sapiens.

      Similarly, I want to claim, for groups. Unifying principles—that mention things like social contracts, intentionality, and so on—are convenient ways to talk about societies. They are not parts of societies though. For societies—that is, these special sorts of groups—are just pluralities (at times).

      Ultimately, I agree with what you wrote at the end of your question: I think that everything you said is compatible with my approach. And here’s how I’d make room for investigations into social glues (which I agree are important): we need such investigations, because we need to better understand the various patterns that obtain among groups that we care about, and unifying principles help us do that. Theories of social groups are basically theories of group dynamics: they are theories, that is, of how various groups interact.

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