American Philosophical Society
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406. Linguistics[X]
1Name:  Dr. John R. Searle
 Institution:  University of California, Berkeley
 Year Elected:  2010
 Class:  4. Humanities
 Subdivision:  406. Linguistics
 Residency:  Resident
 Living? :   Living
 Birth Date:  1932
Intellectual Autobiography of John R. Searle This will be mainly concerned with my intellectual development. I mention other biographical facts only insofar as they bear on intellectual life. I was born in Denver, Colorado on July 31st, 1932. My mother was a medical doctor, my father an electrical engineer employed by the telephone company. During the war, in 1944, my father transferred to the head office of ATT in New York City. Intellectually, in the period when I lived in the New York area, the most important thing that happened to me was that in 1945 at the age of 13, I enrolled in the 9th grade of an experimental school run by Columbia University Teachers College, the Horace Mann-Lincoln School (since abolished for financial reasons). It was among the most intense intellectual experiences I have had in my life. The students were selected competitively. The John Dewey theory on which the school was run, that the students decide on what they wanted to study, though hopeless for ordinary schools, worked fine for Horace Mann-Lincoln. The students were both extraordinarily intelligent and intensely motivated. Other private schools had social standing, but we thought we were intellectually the best. (Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, both public schools, were in intellectual competition, but we had the best chess team.) After the war in 1946 my father was transferred to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I attended a suburban high school in Shorewood, graduating at the age of 16 in 1949. That Fall I enrolled in the University of Wisconsin. I was lucky in that the university at that time had a very intense program called "Integrated Liberal Studies," which gave me a solid foundation for subsequent intellectual work. Like Horace Mann-Lincoln, ILS had a weak underlying theory, but strong intellectual execution. The theory was that we would in two years receive a unified conception of the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences, with a solid understanding of how they developed from the foundations laid by Greek and Roman civilization. The actual execution gave us the best professors in the university, a high quality student body, and an understanding of the relationships among various intellectual endeavors. I do not think I could have received a better first two years of college anywhere in the country at that time. In the summer of 1951, after my sophomore year in Madison at the age of 18, I had a life-changing experience. Along with some friends, I travelled free to Europe by getting a part time job on a ship crossing the Atlantic chartered by the Council on Student Travel. I spent the summer travelling around Europe, mostly by hitchhiking. I spent the first month in Paris, and then travelled through France, Germany, Austria (through the Soviet Occupation Zone to Vienna), Italy, as far south as Rome, and back up through Italy to the Riviera, and then to Belgium, Holland and England. This was a life-changing experience for me because I became convinced that my education required study in Europe. At that time, Europe in general, and European universities in particular had an intellectual prestige and élan that seemed lacking in the United States and in American universities. Rightly or wrongly, I thought that the great European universities were better than any American universities, and this view was widely held at the time. When I got back to Madison, I tried to find funding that would take me to Europe to complete my undergraduate studies, but discovered that as a 19 year old junior, I was ineligible to apply for sources of funding such as the Fulbright Scholarship. The only thing I was eligible for was the Rhodes Scholarship, and I was told that at my age I was unlikely to get it. I may have been helped by the fact that I was student body president, raced on the ski team, and had a straight A average. In any case, I won a Rhodes, and went to Oxford. I again got a job working my way to Europe, and travelled around Europe in the summer before matriculating in Oxford as an undergraduate in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in October of 1952. My first year in Oxford was something of a disappointment and it seemed to me that the intellectual level was no better than the University of Wisconsin, and perhaps not as good. But in my second and third year, all of that changed, and I fell in with a group of fellow undergraduates who were passionately interested in philosophy. I was especially influenced by Frank Cioffi, Nigel Lawson, and Robin Farquharson. Oxford was at that time the world leader in Philosophy and many of the teachers were first rate. I attended lectures and was taught by Peter Strawson, J.L. Austin, Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire, Michael Dummett, David Pears, Elizabeth Anscombe and Bernard Williams among others. The chief influences on me were Austin and Strawson. There is a certain irony in my relation to Austin, because when I first went to Austin's lectures on speech acts, I found them boring. Later I began to appreciate his qualities and we discussed philosophical arguments frequently. Once we argued so long after class that we were locked up in the building - until the janitors rescued us. The fact that I initially found his work boring is ironic because my first book, Speech Acts (1969), and much of second book, Expression and Meaning (1979), were directed to problems that were initiated by Austin, and I thought of myself, as many other people did, as carrying on his work. Another life-changing experience was that in my final years as an undergraduate, I was, only for a few weeks, tutored by Peter Strawson. More than anybody else, he taught me how to do philosophy. I completed my degree in Oxford in 1955, and accepted a senior scholarship at St. Anthony's College, which enabled me to continue graduate studies in Oxford. In 1956, I became a Research Lecturer at Christ Church, and I stayed on for three more years in Oxford as Research Lecturer and Tutorial Lecturer. In that time I finished my D.Phil. thesis. On Christmas Eve in 1958, I married Dagmar Carboch, and we have now been married nearly 52 years. We have two grown sons, Thomas and Mark, and two granddaughters, Grace and Bianca. My Oxford thesis was about problems in the philosophy of language, specifically connected with the notions of sense and reference. My work on speech acts eventually grew out of early work on reference, and speech acts was the subject of my first book, published in 1969. In the Fall of 1959, I accepted a position at the University of California, Berkeley. In Berkeley I continued to work primarily in the philosophy of language, especially a theory of speech acts. I have published two books on that subject, Speech Acts and Expression and Meaning, as well as a number of articles. The speech act approach to language inspired by Austin, but also heavily influenced by Wittgenstein, Strawson and Grice, is to think of speaking a language as a form of intentional human activity. Speaking is acting. On this approach, you think not of words as referring to objects, making statements, etc., but rather you think of speakers as using words to refer to objects, and intentionally making statements, etc. To think of speaking language as a form of human activity recasts a rather large number of traditional philosophical disputes, and I continue to believe that it is the correct approach to the philosophy of language. In the Fall of 1964, I had nearly completed Speech Acts, but my researches were interrupted by my participation and active involvement in the Free Speech Movement, a protest movement directed against the policies of the then university administration, which on one occasion included preventing me, a local professor, from giving a special lecture on campus. This activity, though it seemed definitely a sideline for me initially, occupied the center of my attention for the next three years, and really continuing on through most of the 60's. After the success of the FSM and the failure of the administration, I served two years in the new university administration as Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Student Affairs. I also spent some time in Washington DC as a member of the Heard Commission, advising the national administration on the problems of the universities. The main intellectual result for me of this whole experience of student unrest was that in 1971 I published "The Campus War," a book about the university upheavals of the period. In my work on the philosophy of language, I had used free use of "intentionalistic" notions such as "belief", "desire", and "intention", and I felt like this was borrowing money from the bank and I would one day have to pay it back by writing a book about intentionality. I began work on that in the middle 70's, but it was not until the 1980's that it was finally published, Intentionality (1983). It was the hardest book I ever wrote, and there is a sense in which it is a foundation for all of my other work, both before and afterward. In philosophy, by the way, one typically constructs the foundations of the structure after the structure is built, so it is not surprising that in 1983 I published the foundation of work that I had done in the late 60's. The claims that I would lay for my account of intentionality in that book are two: first, it is a comprehensive account of the functioning of intentional states that includes not just beliefs and desires, but perceptions, intentional actions, memories, and embeds them in a holistic account of how our mental life is structured not in atomistic units but in networks of mental phenomena that I call the "Network," and against a background of human capacitites and dispositions that I call the "Background." The second claim that I would make is that my account of intentionality is completely naturalistic in that intentionality, with all of its intrinsic irreducibly first-person mode of existence, is seen as a natural biological phenomena, as much a part of biology as digestion or photosynthesis. In the course of writing Intentionality I read a lot of the material in the contemporary philosophy of mind, and taught courses in the subject. I discovered to my horror that views that I regarded as false to the point of preposterousness - such as behaviorism, or various forms of materialism such as the computational theory of the mind, as well as old-fashioned dualism - were still quite common, and indeed, widely accepted by otherwise competent professionals in the philosophy of mind. So I wrote some more critical, indeed polemical, works attacking these views. Among the most famous of these was an article I published in 1983, presenting what was called "The Chinese Room Argument," refuting the idea that the mind is just a computer program implemented in the brain ("Minds, Brains, and Programs," The Behavioral Brain Sciences). I also published a book length discussion of the nature of mind and the study of the mind (The Rediscovery of the Mind, 1992). I continued to publish fairly extensively on problems of the mind, and brought out my Reith Lectures, "Mind, Brains, and Science," in 1984. In this middle period, if I may so describe it, I was not working primarily on problems in the philosophy of language, but on problems in the philosophy of mind, and I was very active in both the foundation of, and the continuous activity of, the Berkeley Cognitive Science Group. My work in the philosophy of mind differs from mainstream philosophy in its combination of an anti-reductionist and yet naturalistic bent. I think that intentionality and consciousness are not reducible to behavior, computer programs, or any rest of the materialist candidates. But at the same time, they are a part of nature, and I have baptized my approach to these questions as "biological naturalism." Eventually I felt that I had said most of what I had to say about the pure philosophical aspects of cognition, but the ground had now been prepared for further neurobiological studies. Specifically, in 1995, I published an article in the Annual Review of Neuroscience, "Counsciousness," where I described what I thought a proper scientific study of consciousness should be like. In the early 90's, I began to work on and explore problems in the nature of social ontology. There is a question that had always bothered me, and that is, How is it that there can be an objective reality of money, property, government, and marriage, when that reality only exists because we think it exists? It is an objective fact that this is a twenty dollar bill, and yet such facts exist not on the paper as such, but in the minds of the people who produce and use the bills. How does that work? It is an odd weakness in intellectual history that this problem of social ontology was not adequately solved by the great founders of sociology, but the reason for their failure is clear. They did not have an adequate theory of language. The answer I give to this question is essentially an application of my theory of speech acts. All of objective institutional reality including not just money, property, government, and marriage, but cocktail parties, summer vacations, universities, and certified public accountants are created by the use of language. In general, the features that we think of as characteristic of the institutional parts of human civilization, are created in their initial existence and maintained in existence by speech acts that have a certain specific logical form. The basic idea is to connect the fundamental concepts that underlie human civilization. Humans have an ability to assign functions that people and objects can perform, where the function is performed not in virtue of the physical structure, but in terms of the assignment of a certain status, and the function is performed in virtue of that status. Thus, knives have a function performed in virtue of their physical structure, but twenty dollar bills have a function performed in virtue of an assigned status. I call these "status functions." All specifically institutional facts are status functions, and status functions are important because they embody a certain class of powers, what I call "deontic powers" - rights, duties, obligations, etc. - and these deontic powers are the glue that holds human civilization together because they create desire independent reasons for action. I have expounded and explained these ideas in considerable length in two books, The Construction of Social Reality (1995) and Making the Social World (2010). After I had been doing philosophy professionally for decades, it eventually dawned on me that I was really answering a single question. It is this: Granted that the world we inhabit is entirely composed of mindless, meaningless, physical particles, how can there be a meaningful human reality that includes consciousness, intentionality, free will, rationality, language, society, ethics, aesthetics, economics, and politics? That is the question I have been addressing in all of these various books and articles. So the question of language is how do we get from the physics - from the acoustic blasts or the marks on paper - the the meaningful speech act? The question for the mind is how is it possible for "physical" structures in the brain, such as neurons with their synapses, to cause and sustain a mental reality? How is it possible in a world of physical particles for there to be an objective reality of money, property, and other social institutions? Most of my subsequent ideas were already contained in an implicit form in Speech Acts. In a sense then, all of my books have been part of one large book, and that work continues. Such, in a very brief and compact form, is a summary of my intellectual trajectory. As far as the bare curriculum vitae aspects of my life are concerned, I have now spent 51 years as a fulltime faculty member in Berkeley. As there is no longer compulsory retirement, I have not been forced to retire, and have chosen not to do so. I have been a Visiting Professor in a large number of universities, including the University of Michigan, the University of Colorado and Rutgers University. In Europe and South America, I have been a visiting faculty member in Oxford, for one year, and for shorter periods in Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt, Aarhus, Graz, Venice, Florence, Rome Campinas, and Palermo. I have lectured extensively in China, Japan and South Korea and am an honorary Visiting Professor at universities in Beijing and Shanghai. I have published twenty books, over two hundred articles and the works have been translated into twenty three languages.
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