Sebastian Zearing

how to be progressive without being a stupid liberal

Tag Archives: intersubjectivity

Social Constructs and Social Wrappers

Gender is a social construct, they say. And race/ethnicity. And lots of other things that most people can stare at and say, “but but… these distinctions obviously exist and are real!” And they would be right, except that they’ve failed to understand what a construct is (though that may be the fault of either intentional or unintentional obfuscation on the part of the “social construct” advocates). I think the term “social construct” leads to these kinds of misunderstandings for two reasons. One, the word “construct” itself connotes “not real” even though it definitely doesn’t denote that (here’s where the obfuscation comes from). Two, the term doesn’t imply any kind of connection to something objectively real, even though there often may be an actual connection. The term as it’s most often used should be replaced with “social wrapper.” But what is being wrapped? Well here’s a list:

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The Intersubjective

The intersubjective is a fascinating concept which I first found here. I will describe how I think of the concept, but I encourage all readers to visit that page.

The objective and the subjective are ordinary notions of how to categorize the epistemology of claims. Claims like “vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate ice cream” or perhaps occasionally “the photograph depicts a white and gold dress” are understood to be claims about the relation between the psychology of an individual and things in the world. Subjective claims such as these can be false, like if I actually did like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla, but the truth or falsehood can only be ascertained by those with direct access to that individual’s psychology, i.e. only the claimant. Consequently, most people are content spending very little time figuring out the truth of subjective claims. Claims like “chocolate ice cream contains more antioxidants” or “there is a peak in the reflective spectrum of the dress at 483 nm,” on the other hand, are not claims about the relation between the psychology of an individual and things in the world, but rather about things in the world themselves, and so can be measured and reported directly.

The intersubjective adds a third category. It asserts an epistemological category characterized by relations among many separate psychologies and/or among many separate psychologies and things in the world. You can jump straight to the examples, or continue with a strong caveat to all of this that stems from the difference between epistemology and ontology.

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