28 March 2010

Mind, Language and Society - John Searle (1998)

Philosopher John Searle attempts to cover most of his work in the short book Mind, Language and Society from 1998, and it's a fairly straightforward read.  I don't claim to know exactly how Searle's approaches are regarded generally, but I have to say I found most of his ideas to be well-grounded.  For the blog I'm most interested in what he had to say about the mind, and there were a few things here that I thought were of interest.

He posits that there is indeed a 'real world' and that we have what he calls 'direct perceptual access' to that world.  I would agree that we have perceptual access, but I think it is surely limited and subject to our own interpretations, which may bias what we think the real world consists of.  Bottom line, however, I agree with his assertion that "realism is not a theory at all but the framework within which it is possible to have theories." (p. 32).

In the second chapter, 'Mind as a Biological Phenomenon' he argues that you can study consciousness scientifically.  He rejects the physical/mental split that we've created, he refuses "to accept the system of categories that makes consciousness out as something nonbiological." (p. 52).  "Consciousness consists of inner, qualitative, subjective states and processes" and "consists of higher-level processes realized in the ... brain."  Bottom line here: "Suppose we start with the fact that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, and go from there." (p. 59).  I'm with him on this!

The latter part of the book explores language, and while I have not read much on linguistics, I found some of his ideas quite interesting.  He breaks statements (illocutionary points) down into five categories, the most interesting, I think, being the declarations.  These types of statements essentially create the situation that they describe, such as a declaration of war or a vow of marriage.  He sees language as a powerful tool for creation of our social reality. 
What we have, in effect, is not just the mind on one side and language on the other, but mind and language enriching each other until, for adult human beings, the mind is linguistically structured. (p. 152).
 Here are some interview snippets with Searle.

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