Where is the King of France? On the location problem in social ontology

Presentation for the upcoming Social Ontology/Collective Intentionality 2022 conference in Vienna.

The location problem in social ontology is a difficulty for a naturalist ontology when institutions like organizations have no physical basis. Hindriks (2013) proposed a constitution model whereby organizations are constituted by, but not identical to, their members. Together with his enactment account, this allows him to distinguish the location of the persons constituting the organization, from the location of the organization.
However, his proposal depends on the existence of territorial jurisdictions as epitomized in the post-1648 Westphalian state system that became the global standard, which in turn depends on the recognition by persons of such a territorial system. Hence, the territorial system itself, qua institution, would be constituted by persons, and tying organizations to territory does not really solve the location problem.
Two further problems arise as well. In the case of multiple organizations constituted by the same group of people, Hindriks claims that the different organizations can be enacted at different points of time. But in that case, the organization is constituted by the alternative possibilities to enact one or the other organization, which requires a contingent choice which may never materialize. It is hard to see how this fits in with Hindriks’ non-reductive materialism.
A similar problem arises in the case of organizations that are (temporarily) without members. Hindriks offers the case of a papal interregnum whereby the college of cardinals ensures that the constitutive rule of the papacy still exists. However, in line with the previous point, the cardinals may deliberately refuse to elect a new pope – as has in fact happened in the past. Moreover, it opens up the question how far removed from instantiating the required persons the institution can be – is the French monarchy still in an interregnum?
A combination of powers and platonism can resolve these problems, while maintaining the central role Hindriks ascribes to persons. Two or more institutions are regarded as identical if they instantiate a sufficiently similar set of rules, conceived of as abstract objects not tied to space or time. That is their basic and minimal degree of existence. However, they can only be acted upon by persons who have the power to choose between the alternative possibilities of acting upon one or the other institution. Moreover, they exist to a higher degree the more readily available they are to be acted upon and the more valued they are vis-à-vis other institutions. This allows for a rich and dynamic account whereby the French monarchy still exists in a very weak sense.

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