Searle, John (1932–)

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

1. Speech acts and intentionality

Searle’s career has primarily been devoted to developing a general theory of intentionality, beginning with Speech Acts (1969), moving deeper into his analysis in Intentionality (1983). Pursuit of questions about how words relate to the world crystallized for Searle questions about how the mind relates to the world. The conditions of satisfaction of speech acts derive from the conditions of satisfaction of corresponding psychological states. In The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992), Searle reaffirms his general picture. A theory of language is incomplete without an account of the relation between mind and language and of how meaning – the derived intentionality of linguistic elements – is grounded in the more biologically basic intrinsic intentionality of the mind/brain.

Searle’s view that intentional states are related to a network of other intentional states, though not indisputable, is nevertheless in the mainstream. Commitment to the network is a form of holism; only relative to a vast range of other intentional states does any single intentional state have conditions of satisfaction. His view that intentional states function only against a background of skills is less widespread. These skills cannot be reduced to rules, nor can they be explicated by appeal to intentional states themselves, for they do not function as representations. But understanding literal meaning, and in particular, metaphor, requires this background. An oddity of the background is that, though the network fades off into it, the background itself is not intentional, but still involves some kind of stance towards the world (see Holism: mental and semantic).

Underlying Searle’s general approach is the view that any divide between the mental and the physical is logical, not ontological, since in his view intentional states are caused by, and realized only in, physical structures. However, unlike mainstream philosophers of mind who worry how physical phenomena can have intentional properties, Searle since the late 1970s has been saying that the mind–body problem has a simple solution. Instead of this problem, Searle takes consciousness to be the central issue in the philosophy of mind. He has been successful in recruiting lots of others to refocus philosophical attention on consciousness (see Consciousness).

In The Construction of Social Reality (1995) Searle promotes his view about collective intentional behaviour. There is a difference between a group of people merely running around a field and a group playing football. According to Searle, this difference cannot be analysed as the sum of the behaviour of individuals. Since bodily movements can be (type-)identical in both cases, Searle infers that the difference lies in their minds. For those playing football, each has a collective intention of the form ‘we intend to play football’, distinct from, and irreducible to, individual intentions of the form ‘I intend to run downfield twenty yards’ or even ‘I intend to play football’. Rejecting any suggestion that collective intentions are the product of a mysterious Hegelian communal mind, Searle incorporates collective intentions into his individualistic theory of intentionality. Since all mental phenomena are caused by operations of the brain and realized in its structure, there too must collective intentions lie.

Citing this article:
Lepore, Ernie. Speech acts and intentionality. 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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