A Brief Thought-Time With Searle

John R. Searle.  Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World.  New York: Basic Books, 1998.  (Specifically, "The Structure of the Social Universe")

Always good to get outside of your element.  I am working on an unannounced translation of excellent scholastic matters.  Very exciting stuff too.  However, I wish to muse on the "reality of social reality."  Searle has done his own little part on this, and I always admire him for eschewing the arcana of analytic philosophy's pedantic groping at pseudo-"scientific" status (in that anemic, contemporary form of science that would make Aristotle blush with shame).

Anyway, a few quotes an reactions:

"But all the same, it seems to me that there is an irreducible class of intentionality [his sense of the word, primarily practical, not too distinguished into moral / technical] that is collective intentionality or 'we-intentionality'.  How can that be?  In our philosophical tradition, it has always been tempting to think of collective intentionality as reducible to individual intentionality." (p.118)
 Yes "our tradition"—which is not mine—is like this.  He has reached a conclusion that was well articulated by Yves Simon once upon a time.  (Others could be cited—Aristotle, De Koninck, McIntyre, Maritain on better days, et al.)  However, Simon caps them all, and does so with class.  Still, how wonderful to see Searle acknowledge it.  He continues with some good examples.

See page 125 for a good example of social facts being constituted; stresses the need to shift from mere physical function (e.g. the wall protects us) to its social function solely (e.g. the wall is a border).  Not sure if this can account for the distinction between human societies and those of higher animals.  However, there is an intentionality in the internal senses as well.  In any case, Searle does know how to make distinctions—something important indeed.

A number of good remarks after this about the way that we constitute and "stack" social realities within contexts.  Doesn't ground it all well, but that's okay.  One does, of course, need to articulate a complete anthropology at some point to avoid letting this lift off the ground.  His remarks on teleology are not great—but we should note that, in a sense, teleology increases with complexity.  Hence, one rejoices to think of phytosemiosis for instance—the "communication of flowers" with each other. 

A society exists only so long as it can retain the moral being proper to it.  He doesn't say it quite like this, but he sees the point: "But with the withdrawal of collective acceptance, such institutions collapse suddenly, as witness the amazing collapse of the Soviet empire in a matter of months..." (p.132)  Also, some remarks on the same page (and following) about power that could be translated into "authority"; glosses quickly, but important point about how authority becomes constituted when common intentionality is constituted.

Think of some of the general issues raised here in context of physiosemiosis, phytosemiosis, biosemiosis.

I always appreciate Searle's direct style—and always walk away from him a better thinker, even if I don't agree with this or that point.