Ontology, neural networks, and the social sciences

Synthese 199 (1-2):4775-4794 (2020)
  Copy   BIBTEX


The ontology of social objects and facts remains a field of continued controversy. This situation complicates the life of social scientists who seek to make predictive models of social phenomena. For the purposes of modelling a social phenomenon, we would like to avoid having to make any controversial ontological commitments. The overwhelming majority of models in the social sciences, including statistical models, are built upon ontological assumptions that can be questioned. Recently, however, artificial neural networks have made their way into the social sciences, raising the question whether they can avoid controversial ontological assumptions. ANNs are largely distinguished from other statistical and machine learning techniques by being a representation-learning technique. That is, researchers can let the neural networks select which features of the data to use for internal representation instead of imposing their preconceptions. On this basis, I argue that neural networks can avoid ontological assumptions to a greater degree than common statistical models in the social sciences. I then go on, however, to establish that ANNs are not ontologically innocent either. The use of ANNs in the social sciences introduces ontological assumptions typically in at least two ways, via the input and via the architecture.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 92,168

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Pragmatism, Ontology, and Philosophy of the Social Sciences in Practice.Simon Lohse - 2017 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 47 (1):3-27.
Critical Theory and Processual Social Ontology.Emmanuel Renault - 2016 - Journal of Social Ontology 2 (1):17–32.
Some Neural Networks Compute, Others Don't.Gualtiero Piccinini - 2008 - Neural Networks 21 (2-3):311-321.
Social-networking and barriers.S. Vangorodskaya & L. Kolpina - 2012 - Epistemological studies in Philosophy, Social and Political Sciences 4 (22):189-193.


Added to PP

81 (#207,439)

6 months
42 (#95,656)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

David Strohmaier
Cambridge University

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

Group agency: the possibility, design, and status of corporate agents.Christian List & Philip Pettit - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Philip Pettit.
A logical calculus of the ideas immanent in nervous activity.Warren S. McCulloch & Walter Pitts - 1943 - The Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 5 (4):115-133.
Groups as Agents.Deborah Tollefsen - 2015 - Malden, MA: Polity.
Deep learning: A philosophical introduction.Cameron Buckner - 2019 - Philosophy Compass 14 (10):e12625.

View all 25 references / Add more references