Master of Arts
Date of Defense
The individual is at the center of liberal political theory. Despite this, oppressed groups that are members of liberal societies are not respected as individuals. This paper attempts to explain one way in which this happens. I argue that some people are not treated as individuals, because they are in fact not individuals. In some cases, to be an individual requires recognition as an individual. I attempt to show that certain uses of the term “individual” refer to conferred properties. A conferred property is a property that is given to an object by a subject. Thus, conferred properties are not natural properties. I argue that “individual” refers to a conferred property when “individual” refers to a social identity. A social identity has three necessary conditions. First, a social identity is linguistically recognizable. Second, people are identified with a social identity. Third, people that possess a social identity are treated as such. I introduce three different kinds of social kinds. The third kind refers to social kinds that exist only in virtue of attitudes and beliefs about the kind itself and the attitudes and beliefs about the particular tokens instantiating the kind. I claim that members of this third kind are conferred properties. Furthermore, I claim that social identities are examples of this third kind of social kind. Therefore, when the term “individual” refers to a social identity, the term refers to a conferred property. Given this, I introduce the idea of debunking projects, which can be used to debunk uses of the word “individual” that are unjust or metaphysically erroneous. Debunking projects can help us do two things in relation to individuality. They can show us when it is unjust to confer the property “individual,” and they can show us when it is unjust not to confer the property “individual.”
Auwerda, Zachary, "A Conferralist Account of Individuality" (2018). Theses. 323.