Katherine Ritchie  |  Assistant Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York, CUNY

Drafts and abstracts for my recent publications, articles under review, and works in progress can be found below. Feel free to contact me for drafts at kcritchie@gmail.com. I also appreciate comments!



Should We Use Racial and Gender Generics? (forthcoming, Thought)
Abstract: Recently several philosophers have argued that racial, gender, and other social generic generalizations should be avoided given their propensity to promote essentialist thinking, obscure the social nature of categories, and contribute to oppression. Here I argue that a general prohibition against social generics goes too far. Given that the truth of many generics require regularities or systematic rather than mere accidental correlations, they are our best means for describing structural forms of violence and discrimination. Moreover, their accuracy, their persistence in the face of counterexamples, and features of the contemporary socio-political context make generics useful linguistic tools in social justice projects.

What We Can Do (forthcoming, Philosophical Studies)
Abstract: Plural first-person pronouns have often been ignored in the literature on indexicals and pronouns. The assumption seems to be that we is just the plural of I. So, we can focus on theorizing about singular indexicals and about non-indexical plurals then combine the results to yield a theory of plural indexicals. Here I argue that the “divide and conquer” strategy fails. By considering data involving plurals, generics, and complex demonstratives, I argue for a referential semantics on which we can refer to two sorts of group-like entities. Further, by considering the nature of semantic theorizing, I argue that semantics must draw some metaphysical distinctions, including between groups of two sorts.

Social Structures and the Ontology of Social Groups (forthcoming, Philosophy and Phenomonological Research)
Abstract: Social groups—like teams, committees, gender groups, and racial groups—play a central role in our lives and in philosophical inquiry. Here I develop and motivate a structuralist ontology of social groups centered on social structures (i.e., networks of relations that are constitutively dependent on social factors). The view delivers a picture that encompasses a diverse range of social groups, while maintaining important metaphysical and normative distinctions between groups of different kinds. It also meets the constraint that not every arbitrary collection of people is a social group. In addition, the framework provides resources for developing a broader structuralist view in social ontology.

Minimal Cooperation and Group Roles (forthcoming, Minimal Cooperation and Shared Agency, A. Fiebich (Ed.), Springer)
Abstract: Cooperation has been analyzed primarily in the context of theories of collective intentionality. These discussions have primarily focused on interactions between pairs or small groups of agents who know one another personally. Cooperative game theory has also been used to argue for a form of cooperation in large unorganized groups. Here I consider a form of minimal cooperation that can arise among members of potentially large organized groups (e.g., corporate teams, committees, governmental bodies). I argue that members of organized groups can be minimally cooperative in virtue of playing roles in an organizational structure and having a common goal. The minimal form of cooperation I argue for is not grounded in collective intentions involving symmetric mental states, special collective intentional modes, or joint commitments. More generally, I show how considering minimal cooperation in the context of organized groups provides an opportunity to reevaluate the extent to which the social world and social phenomena depend on internalist mental factors (e.g., intentions, beliefs) and externalist non-mental factors (e.g., documents, laws, job descriptions). The view of minimal cooperation among members of organized groups I offer provides support for an externalist rather than internalist theory of at least one social phenomenon.

Social Creationism and Social Groups (2018, Collectivity: Ontology, Ethics, and Social Justice, K. Hess, T. Isaacs, and V. Igneski (Eds.), Rowman & Littlefield)
Abstract: Social groups seem to be entities that are dependent on us. Given their apparent dependence, one might hold that Social Creationism—the thesis that all social groups are social objects created through (some specific types of) thoughts, intentions, agreements, habits, patterns of interaction, and practices—is true. Here I argue that not all social groups come to be in the same way. This is due, in part, to social groups failing to have a shared nature. I argue that some groups (e.g., racial and gender groups) are social kinds. They either falsify Social Creationism or are created as mere byproducts of property instantiation. In contrast, I argue that other groups (e.g., teams and committees) are social objects. When restricted to groups like these, Social Creationism holds. The conclusions have more than just metaphysical import. The differences between groups and how they come to be help to explain why some groups appear to be natural, why some fail to rely on intentions, and why certain sorts of groups are widespread and persistent.

Social Identity, Indexicality, and the Appropriation of Slurs (2017, Croatian Journal of Philosophy)
Abstract: Slurs are expressions that can be used to demean and dehumanize targets based on their membership in racial, ethnic, religious, gender, or sexual orientation groups. Almost all treatments of slurs posit that they have derogatory content of some sort. Such views—which I call content-based—must explain why in cases of appropriation slurs fail to express their standard derogatory contents. A popular strategy is to take appropriated slurs to be ambiguous; they have both a derogatory content and a positive appropriated content. However, if appropriated slurs are ambiguous, why can only members in the target group use them to express a non-offensive/positive meaning? Here, I develop and motivate an answer that could be adopted by any content-based theorist. I argue that appropriated contents of slurs include a plural first-person pronoun. I show how the semantics of pronouns like ‘we’ can be put to use to explain why only some can use a slur to express its appropriated content. Moreover, I argue that the picture I develop is motivated by the process of appropriation and helps to explain how it achieves its aims of promoting group solidarity and positive group identity.

Plural and Collective Noun Phrases (2017, Routledge Handbook on Collective Intentionality)
Abstract: This chapter examines the semantic behavior and treatments of plural terms and collective noun phrases. The chapter begins with a discussion of kinds of plural and collective nouns and data a semantic treatment must capture. I set out major treatments of plural expressions--focusing on the differences between so-called Singularist and Pluralist treatments. I offer arguments that have been given to favor each. Finally I argue that semantic data involving collective nouns should be captured by a semantics that posits a polysemy between a group-as-one and group-as-many meaning.

Can Semantics Guide Ontology? (2016, Australasian Journal of Philosophy)
Abstract: Since the linguistic turn, many have taken semantics to guide ontology. Here, I argue that semantics can, at best, serve as a partial guide to ontological commitment. If semantics were to be our guide, semantic data and semantic treatments would need to be taken seriously. Through an examination of plurals and their treatments, I argue that there can be multiple equally semantically adequate treatments of a natural language theory. Further, such treatments can attribute different ontological commitments to a theory. Given this I argue that semantics can fail to deliver determinate ontological commitments and determinate answers to ontological questions more generally.

The Metaphysics of Social Groups (2015, Philosophy Compass)
Abstract: Social groups, including racial and gender groups and teams and committees, seem to play an important role in our world. This article examines key metaphysical questions regarding groups. I examine answers to the question “Do groups exist?” I argue that worries about puzzles of composition, motivations to accept methodological individualism and a rejection of Racialism support a negative answer to the question. An affirmative answer is supported by arguments that groups are efficacious, indispensible to our best theories and accepted given common sense. Then, I turn to an examination of the features of social groups. I argue that social groups can be divided into (at least) two sorts. Groups of Type 1 are organized social groups like courts and clubs. Groups of Type 2 are groups like Blacks, women, and lesbians. While groups of both sorts have some features in common, they also have marked differences in features. Finally, I turn to views of the nature of social groups. I argue that the difference in features provides evidence that social groups do not have a uniform nature. Teams and committees are structured wholes, while race and gender groups are social kinds.

What Are Groups? (2013, Philosophical Studies)
Abstract: In this paper I argue for a view of things like teams, committees and courts, which I call groups. I begin by examining the features all groups seem to have in common. I formulate a list of six criteria that any adequate theory of groups must capture. I then examine four of the most prominent views of groups currently on offer—that groups are fusions, aggregates, non-singular pluralities and sets. I argue that each fails to capture one or more of the criteria. Last, I develop the view that groups are realized structures. Such a view has two components. First, groups are entities with structure. Second, groups are concreta, so they exist only when a group structure is realized. I show how the view captures the six criteria while offering a substantive answer to the question, “What are groups?”

Book Reviews

Review of Ron Mallon’s The Construction of Human Kinds (2017, Ethics)

Review of Deborah Tollefsen’s Groups as Agents (2016, Journal of Social Ontology)

Works in Progress

Does Identity Politics Reinforce Oppression? (under review)
Abstract: Identity politics has been critiqued in various ways. One central problem—the Reinforcement Problem—claims that identity politics reinforces groups rooted in oppression thereby undermining its own liberatory aims. Here I argue that careful consideration of the metaphysics of social groups and of the practice of identity politics provide resources to dissolve the Reinforcement Problem. Identity politics involves the creation or transformation of groups in two ways. Neither succumb to the Reinforcement Problem. One prominent argument problematizing identity politics as a liberatory strategy fails once the metaphysics of social groups is taken seriously.

Essentializing Inferences (under review)
Abstract: Predicate nominals (e.g., ‘is a female’) elicit essentializing inferential judgments about stable and causally explanatory characteristics while their predicate adjective correlates (e.g, ‘is female’) do not. Evidence from semantic data and from developmental and cognitive psychology supports that the distinction is robust. I argue that while the difference between predicate nominals and predicate adjectives is not standardly captured in semantic theories, it ought to be. I then develop and defend a semantic view that involves two notions of genericity and presuppositions that elicit essentializing inferences.

Group Nouns, Social Groups: Metaphysics in Semantics (under review)
Abstract: Group nouns (e.g., team and committee) seem to denote entities that are in some sense one and in another sense many. I argue that semantic data supports the claim that group nouns have dual denotations that can vary in members and that can be coincident and non-identical. While semantic data should be explained by any good semantic theory, data involving duality, variation in members, and coincidence also call out for a metaphysical account of groups. I argue that the view that groups are structured wholes is metaphysically motivated and offers resources that can be used to give a semantics of group nouns. Finally, I sketch a semantics of group nouns. I argue that group nouns are polysemous and show how the account delivers a neat explanation of predication and entailment patterns.

No "Easy" Answers to Identity Questions (with Vera Flocke, under revision)
Abstract: Easy Ontologists, most notably Thomasson (2015), argue that ontological existence questions are in important respects trivial. They think that we can answer these questions by using our ordinary conceptual skills, perhaps together with some empirical investigations or pragmatic decisions. Ontology thus is “easy”, requiring no distinctively metaphysical investigation. This paper raises a two-stage objection to Easy Ontology. We first argue that ontological questions concerning which things exist are inextricably bound up with questions concerning the identity of and differences between kinds of things. We then argue that identity questions cannot be answered using only the resources available to Easy Ontologists. The reason is that identity is a first-order relation, and, unlike existence, is not plausibly construed as a second-order property. For this reason It is not in general possible to determine whether identities hold on purely conceptual grounds. We examine several ways in which an Easy Ontologist might try to get around this problem, and find them all wanting. Easy Ontology hence does not constitute a comprehensive ontological methodology. Even if ontological existence questions are trivial, there is still an important range of ontological questions whose answers require genuinely metaphysical inquiry.


Groups––A Semantic and Metaphysical Examination
Short Dissertation Abstract: This manuscript is focused on the extent to which semantics can guide metaphysics. I argue that, at best, semantics can serve as a partial guide to metaphysics. Sometimes there will be indeterminate answers to questions of the form 'Does theory T carry a commitment to Fs?' Further, semantics will never answer questions regarding the nature of Fs.

In it I apply this methodology to plurals (e.g., 'the girls,' 'Tom, Luke and George') and collective nouns (e.g., 'the team,' 'a committee'). I argue that plurals are indeterminately committed to sums (or other singular entities) while collective nouns are determinately committed to groups. The semantics of collective nouns delivers the minimal verdict that groups exist, but says nothing about their nature. I also undertake an examination of the metaphysics of groups which goes beyond semantics to offer a substantive view of the metaphysics of groups.