What is practice? What is the essence of sociality? What do we claim to be an act, when can we claim that we are social? What are the ontological preconditions for joint action? These are the points of departure for the Group for Practical Philosophy and Social Ontology.

Group for practical philosophy and social ontology is a research unit at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade. The Group is dedicated to the promotion of theoretical and practical research conducted by a community of philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and historians. The Group’s goal is to research relevant and contemporary topics of practical philosophy and social ontology.

The Group is interested in widening its network of collaborators researching similar topics, and seeks to establish active cooperation with research organizations, public institutions, activist groups and media, in order to systematically pursue critical investigations within the fields of practical philosophy and social ontology.

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The Group takes into account that the fields of practical philosophy and social ontology pertain to some of the most fundamental issues in philosophy. Practical philosophy is concerned with the question of human practice, and encompasses primarily the domains of ethics, philosophy of law, and political philosophy. Practical philosophy initially questions the nature and meaning of practical and political agency, thus addressing the problem of separation from theoretical thinking. Practical philosophy distinguishes itself from theoretical philosophy and defines the peculiarity of its own theoretical status at the same time. The modern period defines practical philosophy as a reflection on what ought to be, as opposed to theoretical philosophy, which is concerned with what is.

Recently developed concepts of practical philosophy explore the place of praxis in theory and focus on the relationship between cognition and interest, between cognition and individual or collective intentionality. Within the field of reflection on praxis we find hermeneutic, transcendental-philosophical, bio-political and other approaches, as well as a growing number of specialized different disciplines.

The Group will place special emphasis on the status of applied ethics. It is closely connected to general ethics, which can be divided into descriptive, normative and meta-ethics. Normative general ethics has a special relevance for applied ethics since it investigates the rational foundation of formal moral principles and the latter’s orienting function in human life. Applied ethics responds to a need for action in the context of the specific alternatives of action. On the one hand, it represents the systematic application of normative-ethical principles to specific spaces of action, while on the other, it relates to certain thematic fields (bioethics, medical ethics, ethics of peace, etc.) and to a need to devise appropriate normative catalogues.

The Group will concentrate its activities around the phenomenon of purposeful ethical institutionalization of basic rules for specific thematic and action fields, special rules for singular types of cases, as well as singular rules for singular cases. Special attention will be paid that such philosophical practice should primarily have advisory status. Practical philosophy and philosophical practice are, above all, loci where concepts of applied ethics are being made, but also loci of self-determination and self-reflection; however, certain circumstances will allow for both formal and material expertise.

Philosophical consulting is especially interesting when applied to collective actors and so-called institutional agency where we presume that an individual acting within a legitimate institution does not bear the same responsibility as an individual acting entirely on their own. Ethical directions for institutional agency are increasingly becoming the responsibility of the so-called ethical commissions that ought to be consensus-oriented and whose task is to offer to society rational arguments and morally acceptable solutions.

The Group’s interest in social ontology rests precisely on the institutional agency’s growing importance for practical philosophy; additionally, one of the central questions of social ontology is that of the status of collective actors and collective intentionality.

Social ontology primarily studies the essence of social facts, that is, the ontological status of human interactions and collective actors. It raises questions about the specificity and the need for introducing special ontological categories to encompass social reality, or about the social modification of certain fundamental categories (i.e. causality).

Here, of central importance is also the question of the ontological status of social norms and the genesis of their validity. Social ontology debates these questions within the span between ontological individualism and ontological collectivism, that is, between the stance that social reality is composed of individuals and the stance that takes social entities as really existing and essentially exceeding our individual reality.

In the context of exploring these alternatives, it is of special importance to pay attention to the analysis of predications pertaining to collective action of at least two agents, that is, to minimal collective intentionality as a basic form of togetherness.

Other important elements for the status of social facts, apart from collective intentionality, are the functional distribution and constitutive rules. This especially goes for institutional facts as a separate part of social facts.

The Group will also consider in its work the phenomenological aspects of social ontology, by which we primarily think the systemic induction of the so-called transcendental intersubjectivity and the problem of its relation to the transcendental egology within this field. This relates to the foundation of intersubjectivity on the constitutive function of the transcendental ego’s extramundane subjectivity. Here, the central place is given to the ontological status of the Other, the issue being whether it crosses the boundaries of primary constitutive subjectivity, in the sense of “consciousness in general” or “general subject”, or whether it is entirely included in and encompassed by the subjective monad.

Coordinator of the Group: Dr Željko Radinković, Research Associate