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X counts as Y in context C, where
"X" refers to the simplest case to some physical object or event and "Y"
to the result of imposing upon some deontic power or function. This formula on
the nature of social lies at the heart of both this book and John Searle's
current work regarding the institutions of social reality, but it is a formula
that needs investigation. This book is just this further investigation.
John Searle's (b. 1932, Denver, CO; Ph.D.
philosophy, Oxford; currently Professor of Philosophy, UC Berkeley) previous work
has been in linguistics and speech acts, philosophy of mind, computationalism,
intentionality, and the problem of consciousness. The departure to an
exploration of the institutions of social reality are found in his 1995 book, The
Construction of Social Reality. It is this work that the writers of the
current volume refer to.
The current volume takes the discussion of this
earlier book by Searle out of the realms of philosophy and into an ontological
economics and sociological domain (one of the particular interests of David Koepsell,
co-editor of John Searle's Ideas About Social Reality). It is here that
both critique and application of Searle's ideas may be found. Here is much
argument about the theory and underlying assumptions of Searle's formula. Before
I discuss this further, I should reiterate the editors' fundamental interest in
Searle's account of the institutions of social reality. They say, that first,
Searle 'attempts to describe laws that are both necessary and general' and
that such an endeavour is particularly relevant today 'as individual societies,
cultures, and traditions become closer and interact more.' It is hoped that 'understanding
Searle's work and the debates surrounding it, will help us to better deal with
these frictions' (p. 2).
This book is divided into three parts:
Extensions and Criticisms, being a selection of core papers from a conference
held at the State University of New York at Buffalo from April 24-25,1998
titled 'Applied Ontology: A Martin Farber Conference on Law and Institutions in
Society' where Searle was a keynote speaker. The contributors forming this core
are Alex Viskovatoff, Dan Fitzpatrick, and Hans Berhard Schmid. Part Two:
Criticism and Reconstructions constitute a selection of further papers at that
conference. Part Three: An Illuminating Exchange, is a sort of dialogue between
Barry Smith and John Searle. A leitmotif throughout the book is argument for
greater clarity from Searle in his writing on social institutions – yet, when
we come to Searle's final reply we are left wondering what is so contentious
here. Searle says, he wrote the book The Construction of Social Reality
not to be about 'social objects' a repeated theme in many papers included in
the book, nor even 'social facts'; the book 'is mostly devoted to the analysis
of institutional facts.' These 'are matters of status function, and that these
status functions in general involves deontic powers.' Searle's approach, he
says of himself, is 'deliberately and self-consciously naturalistic' (p.301).
Put into the context of the much argument about the formula quoted above,
Searle is not saying that the formula is intended as a definition of social
objects; it is an attempt to remind us of the complexity of relational intent.
He says that for him 'the formula X counts as Y in C is intended as a
useful mnemonic to remind us that institutional facts only exist because people
are prepared to regard things or treat them as having a certain status and with
that status a function that they cannot perform solely in virtue of their
physical structure.' Further, 'The creation of institutional facts requires
that people be able to count something as something more than its physical
structure indicates.' And, the greatest stumbling block for many of the
critics, the formula is not required for the thesis of the book The
Construction of Social Reality. Searle says, though, the formula is 'immensely
useful because it captures a crucial element, namely, that status functions
depend on the attitudes of the participants in the social institution in
question' (p.301). Searle's arguments are very much more organic than the
various criticisms suggest, and far less obtuse than a reading of any of the
other papers in this book would assume. This is a valuable book for social
scientists and economists, and philosophers alike, this book deserves deep and
focused reading. Recommended.
© 2004 Elizabeth McCardell
McCardell, PhD, Division of Social Science, Humanities & Education,
Murdoch University, Western Australia
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