John Searle (Continuum Contemporary American Thinkers)

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  3. John Searle and the Construction of Social Reality
  4. How to Do Philosophy with Words: Reflections on the Searle-Derrida debate | Jesús Navarro

Realism, he wants to show, is right, even for social life. Searle does not flinch. We start, he says, with entities, pieces of printed paper, say, or magnetic traces on a disk. We impose a function or functions on these entities, making them mediums of exchange, indications of wealth, and so on. At bottom, the entities are physical. Assigning the function of money to a physical object or a set of physical objects in a particular context or set of contexts allows us to assign further functions in further contexts whose constitutive rules in turn serve as objects to which we assign further functions in further contexts.

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There is money; the accumulation and exchange of money is assigned to banks and other financial institutions; further functions, like that of maintaining national currencies in central banks, are assigned to these institutions in further contexts; and so on. Institutions go deep, and usually stretch back through time. That objects can perform a function in a con text, Searle insists, is a matter of rule. Those Russians, for instance, who a few years ago began to use packets of Marlboros instead of rouble notes, were introducing a new object to which to assign the functions of exchange and accumulation.

In so doing, they merely changed the convention by which they assigned the function. But when in June this year the Russian and Chinese Governments announced that they would abandon barter in their dealings with each other, in favour of using money, they were making a change in their rules of commercial exchange.

They merely changed the conventions for applying those rules. Not all practices, of course, are rule-governed to the same degree.

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There are differences between exchanging, accumulating, begging, arresting, selling and teaching sociology. When one adds, say, having sex and shooting people, these become plain. For Searle, they fall along the continuum that runs from the wholly institutional to the barely social.

What makes an act institutional, he argues, and not just social, is that the function assigned to the fact carries with it further functions. These are typically further rights and responsibilities and are indicated in how we describe the function. So far, one might think, so good: admirably clear, but unremarkable. At least until that last sentence. We accept? We always do so consciously? And we always accept? What humans distinctively do is impose a Y function on the X element and in so doing, usually through language, symbolise that function.

Searle agrees. Some have thought of it as unconscious.


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Conscious mental states minus the consciousness is an empty riddle. The behaviourist account is unsatisfactory also. That simply eliminates intentionality altogether. We accept that someone has, or has had, the power to impose a function Y on an object X in a context C, and that this function continues. If others are not at home either, they may respond and the practice may change, even end.

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Institutions, whole nation-states, even whole empires, as with the former Soviet Union, can collapse, and can sometimes do so very suddenly. When they do, new authorities will ascribe the functions they used to perform to another object, or borrow ascriptions from elsewhere, as the Russians have done, or perhaps invent new ones.

And it this is so, it would seem impossible to say that they exist independently of our representations of them. Searle, however, does want to say this. Realism is easy for bits of paper and hyenas.


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Things of this sort are as they are independently of any account of them, independently of any account being given of them at all. This is the sense of realism that G. Moore tried to sustain when he held his hands up and invited the audience to look. John Searle and the construction of social reality by Joshua Rust 16 editions published between and in English and held by 1, WorldCat member libraries worldwide "In John Searle published The Construction of Social Reality, a text which promises not only to disclose the institutional backdrop against which speech takes place, but also to initiate a new "philosophy of society.

John Searle and the Construction of Social Reality

While many of Searle's interlocutors share the sense that the text marks an important breakthrough, he has time and again accused critics of misunderstanding his claims. Despite Searle's characteristic crispness and clarity there remains some confusion, among both philosophers and sociologists, regarding the significance of his proposals.

If statuses are defined in terms of their constitutive rules, as Searle maintains, then disassociation is always possible - someone or something can satisfy those rules without being able to realize the functional effects that are associated with that status.

The gap between technical artifacts and Searlean statuses suggests the possibility of an additional social kind, which I call, following Muhammad Ali Khalidi, a 'real social kind'. However, the placement of real social kinds between technical artifacts and statuses recommends a reconfiguration of Khalidi's most abstract characterization of the notion.

How to Do Philosophy with Words: Reflections on the Searle-Derrida debate | Jesús Navarro

This reconfiguration also lends support to his surprising claim that money is a real social kind. Audience Level.

Ludwig Wittgenstein - John Searle & Bryan Magee

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