Each person is exposed to a dense stream of experiences of the social world, at various levels. We have ordinary interactions — with friends, bus drivers, postal carriers, students — and we want to interpret the behavior that we observe. We read news reports and tweets about happenings in the wider world — riots in Athens, suicide attacks in Pakistan, business statements about future sales, … — and we want to know what these moments mean, how they hang together, and what might have caused them. In short, we need to have a set of mental resources that permit us to organize these experiences into a representation of a coherent social reality.
Exactly. Different people construct different representations of what they see and hear. Little’s conclusion is that there is no single ontology underlying all the different stories that can be told, and our stories are always changing.
Rather, there are likely to be multiple starting points, all of which can result in a satisfactory account of the social world. So there is no transcendental metaphysics for the social world. . .
our social cognitions are always a work in progress, and our conceptual frameworks are more like a paradigm than an ineluctable conceptual foundation.
In my case, I ask the students to consider the existence of the different economic theories they use to make sense of instances like the unemployed “man sitting on the street corner,” what the different consequences of those different theories are, and where those different theories come from.
Then, we can settle into discussing the hegemonic economic theory in the world today—neoclassical economics—and some of the main criticisms of and alternatives to that theory. That’s a way of teaching economics without presuming a single, unchangeable social ontology, which also demonstrates that social ontologies matter.