I am a philosopher of social science with a strong interest in China and Southeast Asia. Paying attention to the logical and conceptual issues raised by the social sciences is key to better understanding the modern world. I think philosophers need to interact seriously and extensively with working social scientists and historians if they are going to be able to make a useful contribution.




  • Is the Xerox Corporation Supervenient?

    Xerox Corporation Supervenient?

    Supervenience is the view that the properties of some composite entity B are wholly fixed by the properties and relations of the items A of which it is... Read more

    Posted on 18 February 2019 SOCIETY
  • Deficiencies in Practical Rationality in Organizations

    Deficiencies Practical Rationality Organizations

    Suppose we are willing to take seriously the idea that organizations possess a kind of intentionally -- beliefs, goals, and purposive actions -- and suppose tha... Read more

    Posted on 25 January 2019 SOCIETY
  • The Place for Thick Theories of the Actor in Philosophy

    Place Thick Theories Actor Philosophy

    image: Bruegel, The Dutch Proverbs (1559)When philosophers of the social sciences take seriously the importance of individual action within the social realm,... Read more

    Posted on 19 January 2019 SOCIETY
  • The Research University

    Research University

    Where do new ideas, new technologies, and new ways of thinking about the world come from in a modern society? Since World War II the answer to this question... Read more

    Posted on 09 January 2019 SOCIETY
  • The Mind of Government

    Mind Government

    We often speak of government as if it has intentions, beliefs, fears, plans, and phobias. This sounds a lot like a mind. But this impression is fundamentally... Read more

    Posted on 14 December 2018 SOCIETY
  • Is Corruption a Social Thing?

    Corruption Social Thing?

    When we discuss the ontology of various aspects of the social world, we are often thinking of such things as institutions, organizations, social networks,... Read more

    Posted on 03 December 2018 SOCIETY
  • Exercising Government's Will

    Exercising Government's Will

    Since the beginning of the industrial age the topic of regulation of private activity for the public good has been essential for the health and safety of the... Read more

    Posted on 01 December 2018 SOCIETY
  • Modeling the Social

    Modeling Social

    One of the most interesting authorities on social models and simulations is Scott Page. This month he published a major book on this topic, The Model Thinker:... Read more

    Posted on 01 December 2018 SOCIETY
  • Eleven Years of Understanding Society

    Eleven Years Understanding Society

    This month marks the end of the eleventh year of publication of Understanding Society. Thanks to all the readers and visitors who have made the blog so... Read more

    Posted on 21 November 2018 SOCIETY
  • Sexual Harassment in Academic Contexts

    Sexual Harassment Academic Contexts

    Sexual harassment of women in academic settings is regrettably common and pervasive, and its consequences are grave. At the same time, it is a remarkably... Read more

    Posted on 23 October 2018 SOCIETY
  • System Effects

    System Effects

    Quite a few posts here have focused on the question of emergence in social ontology, the idea that there are causal processes and powers at work at the level... Read more

    Posted on 21 October 2018 SOCIETY
  • Social Mobility Disaggregated

    Social Mobility Disaggregated

    There is a new exciting and valuable contribution from the research group around Raj Chetty, Nathan Hendren, and John Friedman, this time on the topic of... Read more

    Posted on 05 October 2018 SOCIETY
  • Emotions as Neurophysiological Constructs

    Emotions Neurophysiological Constructs

    Are emotions real? Are they hardwired to our physiology? Are they pre-cognitive and purely affective? Was Darwin right in speculating that facial expressions ar... Read more

    Posted on 03 October 2018 SOCIETY
  • Philosophy and the Study of Technology Failure

    Philosophy Study Technology Failure

    image: Adolf von Menzel, The Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclopes)Readers may have noticed that my current research interests have to do with organizational... Read more

    Posted on 01 October 2018 SOCIETY
  • James Scott on the Earliest States

    James Scott Earliest States

    In 2011 James Scott gave a pair of Tanner Lectures at Harvard. He had chosen a topic for which he felt he had a fairly good understanding, having taught on earl... Read more

    Posted on 27 September 2018 SOCIETY
  • System Safety

    System Safety

    An ongoing thread of posts here is concerned with organizational causes of large technology failures. The driving idea is that failures, accidents, and disaster... Read more

    Posted on 25 September 2018 SOCIETY
  • Patient Safety

    Patient Safety

    An issue which is of concern to anyone who receives treatment in a hospital is the topic of patient safety. How likely is it that there will be a serious mistak... Read more

    Posted on 15 September 2018 SOCIETY
  • Turing's Journey

    Turing's Journey

    A recent post comments on the value of biography as a source of insight into history and thought. Currently I am reading Andrew Hodges' Alan Turing: The Enigma... Read more

    Posted on 01 September 2018 SOCIETY
  • The Insights of Biography

    Insights Biography

    I have always found biographies a particularly interesting source of learning and stimulation. A recent example is a biography and celebration of Muthuvel... Read more

    Posted on 29 August 2018 SOCIETY
  • Safety Culture Or Safety Behavior?

    Safety Culture Behavior?

    Andrew Hopkins is a much-published expert on industrial safety who has an important set of insights into the causes of industrial accidents. Read more

    Posted on 19 August 2018 SOCIETY