Searle, John (1932–)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD088-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

2. Defending common sense

Though §1 sketches some of Searle’s contributions to philosophy to date, it fails to reveal his greatest impact. He has enraged the philosophical community simply by defending the unexceptional. Here is a sampling of views he fiercely and proudly defends in the face of so-called academic achievement in fields as diverse as literary criticism, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, animal and child psychology, and of course, contemporary continental and analytical philosophy: the physical world is independent of its inhabitants and would continue to exist even if they did not (see Realism and antirealism); the world comprises facts which make statements and beliefs about it true or false (see Truth, correspondence theory of); some statements are true solely because of what they mean, others because of the way the world is (see Analytic and synthetic); some translations are correct, others are incorrect; because and only because linguistic expressions have meaning, they can determinately apply to things in the world (see Reference); thoughts are in the head (internalism); because thoughts are (individuated by factors) in the head, it is (logically) possible that we are radically deceived about (the nature of) the external world (see Scepticism); I am (or can be) consciously aware of my thoughts and feelings in a way that others cannot (see Introspection, epistemology of); small children and some animals think and feel; one couldn’t have a mind in virtue of running a computer program (see Chinese room argument); mental phenomena are just biological phenomena - that is, higher-level features of the brain – and so, studying the mind is studying the brain (biological naturalism); but since Searle maintains a logical distinction between mental and neurophysiological predicates, neurophysiology wouldn’t give one any philosophical or conceptual insight into mental phenomena.

That it has become fashionable to contradict the views Searle defends might amaze a novice to philosophy. Even more amazing is that, though speech act theory has become academically fashionable (more in linguistics than in philosophy), it is Searle’s defence of the unexceptional that has won him the reputation of philosophical maverick. Some have branded Searle an iconoclast sans argumentation, as philosophically unsubtle and obtuse. But with unflinching commitment, Searle defiantly rejects any philosophy that controverts the commonplace. Searle, not unlike J.L. Austin, Wittgenstein and Moore before him, looks to philosophy for analytic clarification, not metaphysical reduction or elimination.

Citing this article:
Lepore, Ernie. Defending common sense. Searle, John (1932–), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD088-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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