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Searle - Reply to Gross

Searle - Reply to Gross

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Published by: JL on Nov 11, 2009
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 Anthropological Theory
Copyright © 2006 SAGE Publications(London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)http://ant.sagepub.comVol 6(1): 57–6910.1177/1463499606061735
57
Searle versusDurkheim and thewaves of thought
Reply to Gross
 John R. Searle
University of California, Berkeley, USA
In the many comments on
The Construction of Social Reality 
that I have seen since itspublication 10 years ago, the single most astounding claim to me is Gross’s assertion thatit is essentially Durkheimian. He repeats this claim over and over. He says my work has‘Durkheimian roots’, that it exhibits what he calls ‘unacknowledged and unreconstructedDurkheimianism’; that I am ‘a Durkheimian at heart’; that the account is ‘steeped inDurkheim’, that it re-expresses ‘what are essentially Durkheimian ideas in an analyticidiom’. And so on. I think Gross protests perhaps too much and I want to protest equally on the opposite side. Both historically and as a matter of content his claims are entirely false. In order to clarify the differences I will contrast my view of institutional facts withDurkheim’s account of ‘social facts’. While I was working on
The Construction
I read some of the classical works on socio-logical theory, including Durkheim’s chapter ‘Social Facts’ as well as some other sectionsof his book 
The Rules of Sociological Method 
(1938). It seemed immediately obvious tome that Durkheim had an inadequate conception of social facts. He fails to distinguishsocial facts in general from the special subclass of institutional facts, he thinks that socialfacts are essentially coercive, and he thinks that they exist outside of individual minds.He says that the essence of social facts is that they are ‘external to the individual andendowed with a power of coercion, by reason of which they control him’ (1938: 3). Thisis exactly the opposite of my view. I think we need to start by distinguishing social factsin general from institutional facts, that human institutions are in large part enabling andempowering and that the collective intentionality which creates and sustains them isentirely in individual minds. Because Durkheim’s account seemed so impoverished I didnot read any further in his work. It is, by the way, a common mistake in the traditionto suppose that social facts are somehow or other essentially constraining or coercive.
1
I, on the other hand, want to argue that social institutions are in general
enabling 
and
empowering 
. This feature is disguised from us by the fact that once we are working insidesocial institutions, they can seem to be constraining. Thus, in baseball, I only have threestrikes. Within the institution of money, I cannot spend money I do not have, or at least
 
do not have control of. This makes it seem as if baseball and money are somehow coercive and constraining, but it is important to remember that the institution itself creates possibilities that life would not have without that institution. Think of money,government, private property, cocktail parties, and universities, to take some examplesat random. All of these institutions enable us to perform kinds of activities that we couldnot possibly perform without them.I think this mistake in Durkheim derives from other, deeper, inadequacies in his work.He never, as far as I know, seriously attempts to describe the differences between humansocial reality and that of other social animals. All sorts of animals have social relationsand many species have social facts in Durkheim’s sense of external coercions. But thespecial feature of human beings is that they have
institutions 
, and once you explore thelogical structure of these institutions, their enabling and empowering features becomeobvious. Language is the most important case, because the institution of language givesus enormous powers not possessed by other animals, not even by other primates. Andit provides the foundation for all other institutions. I believe it is at least in part becauseDurkheim fails to explore human social facts within the larger context of animal socialfacts that he fails to see the distinction between social facts and institutional facts. Hisanalysis does not even get up to the point where he is able to pose the questions that Iam posing. For example, how do human institutional facts go beyond mere ‘social facts’? What is the logical structure of institutions? How does language constitute institutionalreality in a way that it does not constitute brute reality?Because Gross prompts me to distinguish my theory from Durkheim’s, it is essentialto remind ourselves at the beginning that Durkheim was writing a century ago andlacked the resources of contemporary philosophy. For example, in a post-Fregean era,any philosopher will be alerted by the intensionality (with an ‘s’) of institutional state-ments.
2
For contemporary philosophers intensionality is a red flag and prompts deeperinvestigation. Durkheim treats all these contexts as if they were extensional and I believethat is because he lacked the resources of contemporary philosophy. In what follows Iam not belittling Durkheim’s historical significance but questioning the adequacy of hisaccount for contemporary theory.
I.TEN WEAKNESSES IN DURKHEIM
 As a matter of my biographical history, Durkheim’s work had no influence whatever onthe writing of 
The Construction of Social Reality 
. However, Gross might have been rightin thinking that there are some important overlaps and similarities, even with no histori-cal influence, so with that question in mind I had a closer look at Durkheim’s work. Ican now report that the situation with Durkheim is much worse than I had originally thought. His conception of social ontology is not only inconsistent with mine, but isflawed in ways I did not originally realize. And the general philosophy is much worsethan Gross seems aware of. Here, for example, is one typical statement:How many well-established cases suggest that thought can travel over a distance? Thedifficulty which we may have in conceiving so disconcerting an idea is not sufficientreason for us to deny its reality, and we shall in all probability have to admit the exist-ence of waves of thought.... (Durkheim, 1953: 19)
ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY 6(1)
58
 
In
The Construction
and subsequent works, I have made use of certain essential conceptsand presuppositions in trying to understand social reality in general and institutionalreality in particular. These come directly from my philosophy of language and phil-osophy of mind. I will list several of these central concepts and distinctions, and for thesake of brevity I will confine the list to a dozen.1.The ontological unity of the world.2.The distinction between observer-relative and observer-independent phenomena.3.The distinction between the epistemic and the ontological sense of thesubjective–objective distinction.4.The distinction between brute facts and institutional facts.5.Collective intentionality.6.The assignment of function and the consequent observer relativity of functions.7.The concept of status functions.8.The distinction between regulative rules and constitutive rules.9.Deontic powers.10.The constitutive role of language in the structure of society.11.Desire independent reasons for action, and their connection with free will andrationality.12.The background.How many of these do we find in Durkheim? As far as I can tell,
exactly none 
. I used tothink his idea of ‘conscience collectif’ was much like my ‘collective intentionality’, butthey are completely different, as I will explain. With these concepts in mind, let us explore Durkheim’s account of social ontology. I will list what I take to be some of the major defects in his account, and again for thesake of brevity, I will confine the list to only 10. I would not wish to beg any questionsagainst Durkheim, so those who think he is right and I am wrong can think of this listas giving us 10 major differences or points of dispute between Searle and Durkheim.
1.Durkheim does not have an adequate account of the ontological unity of the universe 
 We live in exactly one world, and one of our main tasks in social ontology is to makeclear how such things as nation-states and balance of payments problems are part of exactly the same world as hydrogen atoms. On my account all mental life exists entirely in neuronal structures and all social and institutional reality exists in individual minds(together, of course, with all of the material objects and other features of the context in which those minds operate). It is not easy to get a consistent and coherent account of ontology out of Durkheim’s writings. He denies over and over that mental reality existsentirely in neuronal structures and he denies that social reality exists entirely in individ-ual minds. He grants that brain cells form the ‘substratum’ of consciousness and thatindividual consciousnesses form the ‘substratum’ of collective representations but hethinks that in each case the phenomenon surpasses its substratum and exists in partoutside the substratum. He thinks each is, as he says over and over,
sui generis 
. At nopoint does he say, as I do, that all collective representations exist only in individualminds.
SEARLESearle versus Durkheim. Reply to Gross
59

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Paul Carls added this note
Such poor quality scholarship by such a distinguished philosopher is quite surprising. This article misconstrues a number of elements of Durkheim's thought, and probably stems from the fact that Searle has not read very much Durkheim. Durkheim and Searle's respective projects are in actuality quite similar. A good source to consult on this is Stephen Lukes article, "Searle versus Durkheim"
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