Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Searle and Collective Intentionality: The Self-Defeating Nature of Internalism with Respect to Social Facts. (Extensions and Criticisms)

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Searle and Collective Intentionality: The Self-Defeating Nature of Internalism with Respect to Social Facts. (Extensions and Criticisms)

Article excerpt


The Constituents of Searle's Account of Social Reality

IN ORDER TO PLACE SEARLE'S NOTION OF COLLECTIVE INTENTIONALITY in its proper context I will first of all outline his account of social reality. One of the central aims of Searle in The Construction of Social Reality is to provide an account of social reality that is in keeping with his realism.

How can there be an objective world of money, property, marriage, governments, elections, football games, cocktail parties and law courts in a world that consists entirely of physical particles in fields of force, and in which some of these particles are organized into systems that are conscious biological beasts, such as ourselves? (Searle 1995: xi)

This question actually involves two questions, one regarding how social reality is possible and another concerning how such an account can accommodate or be consistent with the sort of realism that Searle espouses. In his own words, his overall picture of philosophy "proceeds by way of external realism through the correspondence theory of truth to the structure of social reality" (Searle 1995: 199-200). According to Searle, external realism is the view that "the world (or alternatively, reality, or the universe) exists independently of our representations of it" (Searle 1995: 150). This claim is not an empirical thesis, according his account, but is a precondition for much of our language and thought (Searle 1995: 182). The correspondence theory of truth is the claim that a statement is true if and only if it corresponds to the facts where, for Searle, facts are "conditions in the world that satisfy the truth conditions expressed by statements" (Searle 1995: 211). Although these claims are arguably contentio us I will not be addressing them directly; I merely note them by way of making explicit Searle's motivation for his account of social reality.

Although Searle sees the mind purely in terms of "a set of higher-level features of the brain," he also claims that there is an important distinction between what he terms "intrinsic" and "observer-relative" features of the world (Searle 1995: 9). The latter features are those that exist relative to the intentionality of observers, and some of these are features of our social and institutional reality. But since intentionality is a feature of the mind, which for Searle is but a higher-level feature of the brain, and since social and institutional reality can be constructed out of certain features of intentionality, Searle is able to put forward a hierarchical taxonomy that shows "the place of the social, institutional and mental reality within a single physical reality" (Searle 1995: 121).

A. Status Functions

There are three main components to Searle's account of social reality: status functions, collective intentionality, and constitutive rules. We will examine status functions first. For Searle, there are features of the world that exist independently of us and other features that are dependent on us for their existence. An example of the former might be a physical object that is composed of metal and wood. These physical features are intrinsic to that object and exist independently of us. But when I describe that object as a screwdriver, "I am specifying a feature of the object that is observer or user relative" (Searle 1995: 10). Later, Searle explains that human beings can impose or assign such features or functions on aspects of the world, whether they be objects such as combinations of pieces of wood and metal that function as screwdrivers, or sounds that are produced in speech where the function that is imposed is words. Searle calls these "agentive functions," in that they serve the interests of agents an d are for their use. Among his examples of objects with agentive functions are chairs or a stone that is used as a paperweight. But, according to Searle, this category of agentive functions contains within itself another subcategory of what he terms "status functions. …

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