1st Edition

The Nature of Social Reality Issues in Social Ontology

By Tony Lawson Copyright 2019
    280 Pages
    by Routledge

    280 Pages
    by Routledge

    The social sciences often fail to examine in any systematic way the nature of their subject matter. Demonstrating that this is a central explanation of the widely acknowledged failings of the social sciences, not least of modern economics, this book sets about rectifying matters.

    Providing an account of the nature of social material in general, as well as of the specific natures of central components of the modern world, such as money and the corporation, Lawson also considers the implications of this theory regarding possibilities for social change. Readers will gain an understanding of how social phenomena, from tables and chairs, to money and firms, and nurses and Presidents are constituted. Fundamental to Lawson’s conception is a theory of community-based social positioning, whereby people and things within a community become constituted as components of emergent totalities, with actions governed by the rights and obligations of relevant members of the community. This theory isolates a set of basic principles that will offer the reader an understanding of the natures of all social phenomena.

    The Nature of Social Reality is for all those, academics and non-academics alike, who wish to gain a grasp on the nature of social phenomena that goes beyond the superficial.

    Preface and acknowledgements

    Part 1: Setting the context.

    1. Why social ontology?

    Part 2: A general conception

    2. Ontology and the study of social reality: emergence, organisation, community, power, social relations, corporations, artefacts and money

    Part 3: Topics in scientific ontology

    3. The nature of the firm and peculiarities of the corporation

    4. The modern corporation: the site of a mechanism (of global social change) that is out-of-control?

    5. A theory of money

    6. The positioning and credit theories of money compared

    Part 4: The nature and dynamics of processes of emergence, reproduction and transformation.

    7. Emergence, morphogenesis, causal reduction and downward causation

    8. Collective practices and norms

    Part 5: Consequences for projects of human emancipation

    9. Possibilities for emancipatory social change



    Tony Lawson is Professor of Economics and Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, UK. He is also a co-Editor of the Cambridge Journal of Economics and co-Founder of the Cambridge Realist Workshop and the Cambridge Social Ontology Group.

    *Winner of the 2020 Cheryl Frank Memorial Prize*

    "If modern economics and philosophy are largely neglectful of ontology, they are especially so of social ontology.  Tony Lawson’s impressive body of work is an exception to this, as is this strongly recommended book." John B. Davis, Professor Emeritus of Economics, Marquette University and University of Amsterdam

    "Society needs innovative, critical thinking which enlightens on the complex and evolving nature of social reality, not least its economic aspects. Tony Lawson's latest contribution on this is a must-read." Sheila Dow, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Stirling

    "As is universally, and rightly, recognised Tony Lawson is the leading scholar questioning the (social) ontology of economics. In this compelling volume, he takes a number of important steps forward, drawing on the more constructive aspects of his work in theorising such topics as money, the modern corporation, and alternative futures." Ben Fine, Professor of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

    "The Nature of Social Reality is the book that we have all been waiting for: a rigorous philosophical account of social reality, written by a scholar with impeccable credentials as an economist and social theorist. In an intellectual environment in which philosophers are becoming increasingly interested in the nature of social phenomena (and contemporary social scientists have growing cause to examine their implicit philosophical commitments), Tony Lawson has delivered an invaluable resource at the perfect moment." Ruth Groff, Political Science, Saint Louis University

    "When one thinks of Cambridge social ontology, one thinks of Tony Lawson, long the leader of that important current. It is very welcome therefore to have this collection of essays. Those unfamiliar with Lawson’s work will encounter one of the most forceful and influential statements on the nature of social reality to emanate from modern economics. Those already familiar will find their understanding deepened." Doug Porpora, Professor of Sociology, Drexel University

    "In this splendid book, the philosopher-economist Professor Tony Lawson makes a powerful case for placing economics, and indeed all social theorising, on proper ontological foundations. An essential read for all social scientists." Lord Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, Warwick University