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.
Are genealogies of our beliefs relevant to the truth of these beliefs? Drawing on Bernard Williams’s Truth and Truthfulness, I argue that genealogies, or historical narratives showing how a set of beliefs came about, can be either critical or vindicatory of these beliefs. They can be critical by denaturalizing beliefs, showing their continued inability to solve explanatory problems, revealing the origins of these beliefs in assumptions that we no longer accept, and exposing unwelcome practical applications of these beliefs. Genealogies can be vindicatory by showing that the framework of beliefs has the ability to innovate itself and has led to acceptable practical applications of the beliefs in question. However, if contingency creates the space for genealogies in philosophical arguments, it also limits their effectiveness. In most cases, genealogies do not offer conclusive arguments for or against the beliefs they narrate. They either point out a contradiction that needs to be resolved, or show that the framework of beliefs has been successful so far, with no guarantees for such success in the future.
Mark Bevir and Andrius Gališanka
Edited by Mark Bevir and Andrius Gališanka
The chapters focus on the nature of normative inquiry. Together, they present a Wittgensteinian approach to normative inquiry, which, while broad and contested, stands in contrast to dominant deductive approaches. Arguing to normative conclusions by showing family resemblances, drawing analogies, using persuasion, appealing to naturalist arguments, authors and Wittgensteinians discussed by them expand our notion of normative inquiry.