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PhD defense - Maryam Ebrahimi Dinani "The Social World : An Inquiry into the Foundations of Social Institutions"


Date : Friday, October 13, 2023, from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM

Location : Room 2 of the Collège de France, 11, Place Marcelin Berthelot, 75005 Paris.

Jury :

  • François Recanati, Chair of Philosophy of Language and Mind, Collège de France (thesis supervisor)
  • Manuel García-Carpintero, Full professor, University of Barcelona (reviewer)
  • Margaret Gilbert, Abraham I. Melden Chair in Moral Philosophy, University of California, Irvine (examiner)
  • Kathrin Koslicki, Full professor of theoretical philosophy, University of Neuchâtel (examiner)
  • Andrei Marmor, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Philosophy and Law, Cornell Law School (examiner)
  • Jean-Baptiste Rauzy, Full professor, Sorbonne University (reviewer)
  • Michael Tomasello, James F. Bonk Distinguished Professor, Duke University (examiner)



The primary objective of this dissertation is to introduce a distinction between two types of principles that underlie social institutions such as marriage, games, money, elections, and so on. The argument put forth is that we need to differentiate between (i) principles that specify the conditions under which different institutional kinds are instantiated, and their normative significance in specific contexts, and (ii) principles that elucidate the internal structure or role of social institutions. The former principles have an arbitrary and context-dependent nature, arising from human decisions and attitudes, while the latter principles are necessary and independent of human attitudes for their truth.

The significance of this distinction becomes apparent when examining the conflicting perspectives within debates in social ontology and speech act theory concerning the mind-dependence of the social world and the conventional aspects of social practices, including speech acts. The practice of promising, for instance, poses particular challenges : Is the obligation generated by the act of promising a result of human artifice ? Is promising constituted by conventions ? These questions underscore the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying principles that govern the social world.

To make sense of the distinction, the dissertation explores various debates on constitutive rules, theories of speech acts, conventionalism, joint and collective intentionality, different types of commitments, and the cognitive prerequisites for institutional reality. By engaging with these debates, it aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the fundamental principles shaping social institutions and their functioning.