Making Social Worlds

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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Making the Social World is John Searle’s latest statement on social ontology. His argument is clarified and expanded, but, despite various objections, it remains largely unchanged. In this review, I want to present Searle’s new book in light of these objections, explain why he has rejected the more important among them, and ask whether his reasons for doing so are defensible. I first present arguments that Searle’s naturalism – his broader philosophical project – does not have a definite shape in the social realm. I argue that this view is largely right because Searle allows for two seemingly inconsistent approaches: historical narratives and generalized explanations. I then introduce objections from historicists, who argue that Searle’s theory is not in fact compatible with historical explanations. I explain why Searle rejects these objections, and suggest that his reasons for doing so cannot be defended against examples of conceptual incongruity. On the whole, I argue that Searle’s naturalism starts from stronger assumptions than argument allows.

Making Social Worlds

in Journal of the Philosophy of History



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    J.R. SearleMinds Brains and Science (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press1984); J.R. Searle Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1983); J.R. Searle Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1969).

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  • 2)

    J.R. SearleThe Construction of Social Reality (New York: The Free Press1995).

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    SearleConstruction24 38.

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    SearleMaking the Social World47–8.

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    J.R. Searle“Reply to Barry Smith”American Journal of Economics and Sociology62 (2003) 303.

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    I. Hacking“Searle, Reality and the Social”History of the Human Sciences10 (1997) 90.

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    Hacking“Searle Reality and the Social”89.

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    L. Spillman“Review”Contemporary Sociology 25 (1996) 547; H. Knoblauch “Review” The American Journal of Sociology 101 (1996) 1459; T. Osborne “The Limits of Ontology” History of the Human Sciences 10 (1997) 98.

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  • 20)

    Osborne“The Limits of Ontology”98 99.

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    SearleConstructionxii. For Searle’s discussion of his relation with Durkheim see J.R. Searle “Searle versus Durkheim and the waves of thought: Reply to Gross” Anthropological Theory 6 (2006) 57–69.

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  • 22)

    J.R. Searle“Replies to the Critics of the Construction of Social Reality”History of the Human Sciences10 (1997) 109.

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    SearleMaking the Social World200.

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    C.G. Hempel“The Function of General Laws in History”The Journal of Philosophy39 (1942) 35–48; C. Lévi-Strauss Structural Anthropology trans. C. Jacobson and B. Grundfest Schoephf (New York: Anchor Books 1967).

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  • 28)

    Searle“Intentionalistic Explanations in the Social Sciences”130–1 133–4.

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    Searle“Reply to Gross”68. The book referred to is C. Taylor Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press 2004).

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    Searle“Reply to Gross”68.

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    C. Taylor“Interpretation and the Sciences of Man”The Review of Metaphysics25 (1971) 3–51.

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    See for example M. BevirThe Logic of the History of Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1999) 243–4.

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    T.S. KuhnThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press1962).

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    R. RortyPhilosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press1980); A. MacIntyre After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press 1981). Also see Bevir Logic; Kuhn Structure; I. Lakatos “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes” in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave eds. Criticism and the Growth and Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1970).

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    R.A. Shweder“John Searle on a witch hunt: A Commentary of John R. Searle’s essay ‘Social Ontology: Some basic principles’ ”Anthropological Theory6 (2006) 90–1.

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  • 42)

    J.R. Searle“Reality and Relativism: Shweder on a which? hunt”Anthropological Theory6 (2006) 115.

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    B. Smith“The Ontology of Social Reality”American Journal of Economics and Sociology62 (2003) 293.

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    Smith“The Ontology of Social Reality”293.

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    Searle“Reply to Barry Smith”307.

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    Searle“Reply to Barry Smith”307.

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    J.R. SearleConsciousness and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2002) 75.

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    SearleMind11; J.R. Searle “Meaning Mind and Reality” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 55 (2001) 173.

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