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John Rogers Searle
Full name John Rogers Searle
Born July 31, 1932 (1932-07-31) (age 77)
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic
Main interests Philosophy of language
Philosophy of mind
Intentionality · Social reality
Notable ideas Speech acts · Chinese room

John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932 in Denver, Colorado) is an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Searle began his college education at the University of Wisconsin, and subsequently became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University where he earned an undergraduate degree and a doctorate in philosophy. Widely noted for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and social philosophy, he began teaching at Berkeley in 1959, where, among his many distinctions, he was the first tenured professor to join the Free Speech Movement. He received the Jean Nicod Prize in 2000, and the National Humanities Medal in 2004.



In the 1950s, as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Searle was the secretary of "Students against [Joseph] McCarthy." (McCarthy was the junior Senator from Wisconsin).[1]

While a professor at Berkeley in 1964, he joined the Free Speech Movement[2] opposing policies of the university administration. Later, in 1969, he sided with the administration against the students over People's Park. Also in 1969, he served as chairman of the Academic Freedom Committee of the Academic Senate of the University of California.[3] He authored The Campus War: A Sympathetic Look at the University in Agony (1971). [2] The book attempted to investigate the causes behind the campus uprisings of the era. In it, Searle notes: "I have been attacked by both the House Un-American Activities Committee and ... several radical polemicists.... Stylistically, the attacks are interestingly similar. Both rely heavily on insinuation and innuendo, and both display a hatred -- one might almost say terror -- of close analysis and dissection of argument." He asserts: "[M]y wife was threatened that I (and other members of the administration) would be assassinated or violently attacked."[1]

In an op-ed piece written shortly after 9/11, he argued the attacks were part of a longer-term struggle whose only solution was to root out governments that supported terrorism.[4]

Searle owns a large amount of property in Berkeley, California. In the 1980s he filed a lawsuit which led the California Supreme Court to overturn the city's rent control policy, in what came to be known as the "Searle Decision".[5] The city government claimed this led to "significantly increased rent levels in Berkeley".[6]



Speech acts

Searle's early work, which did a great deal to establish his reputation as a philosopher, was on speech acts. He attempted to synthesize ideas from many colleagues including J.L. Austin (the term "illocutionary act"), Ludwig Wittgenstein (the observation that linguistic meaning is "rule-governed"), G.C.J. Midgley (the distinction between regulative and constitutive rules), and his own thesis, in 'Speech Acts,' that such acts are constituted by the rules of language. He also drew on the work of P.F. Strawson, John Rawls, and H. Paul Grice (the analysis of meaning as an attempt at being understood), Hare and Stenius (the distinction, concerning meaning, between illocutionary force and propositional content), and William P. Alston, who maintained that sentence meaning consists in sets of regulative rules requiring the speaker to perform the illocutionary act indicated by the sentence, and that such acts involve the utterance of a sentence which (a) indicates that one performs the act, (b) means what one says, and (c) addresses an audience in the vicinity. In his 1969 book Speech Acts, Searle sets out to combine all of these elements to give an account of so-called 'illocutionary acts', which Austin had introduced in How To Do Things with Words.

Still, despite his announced intention (1969, 54) to present a "full dress analysis of the illocutionary act," Searle in fact does not give one. Instead, he provides an analysis of the allegedly prototypical illocutionary act of promising, and offers sets of semantical rules intended to represent the linguistic meaning of devices indicating further (supposed) illocutionary act types (1969, 57-71).

Among the concepts presented in the book is the distinction between the 'illocutionary force' and the 'propositional content' of an utterance. Searle does not precisely define the former as such, but rather introduces several possible illocutionary forces by example. According to Searle, the sentences

  1. Sam smokes habitually.
  2. Does Sam smoke habitually?
  3. Sam, smoke habitually!
  4. Would that Sam smoked habitually!

each indicate the same propositional content (Sam smoking) but differ in the illocutionary force indicated (a statement, a question, a command, and an expression of desire, respectively) (1969, 22).

According to a later account which Searle presents in Intentionality (1983) and which differs in important ways from the one suggested in Speech Acts, illocutionary acts are characterised by their having conditions of satisfaction (as idea adopted from Strawson's (1971) paper "Meaning and Truth") and a direction of fit (an idea adopted from Elizabeth Anscombe). For example, the statement "John bought two candy bars" is satisfied if and only if it is true, i.e. John did buy two candy bars. By contrast, the command "John, buy two candy bars" is satisfied if and only if John carries out the action of purchasing two candy bars. Searle refers to the first as having the word-to-world direction of fit, since the words are supposed to change to accurately represent the world, and the second as having the world-to-word direction of fit, since the world is supposed to change to match the words. (There is also the double direction of fit, in which the relationship goes both ways, and the null or zero direction of fit, in which it goes neither way because the propositional content is presupposed, as in "I'm sorry I ate John's candy bars.")

In "Foundations of Illocutionary Logic" (1985, with Daniel Vanderveken), Searle prominently uses the notion of "illocutionary point." (Although Searle does not mention earlier uses of the concept, it originates from Alexander Sesonske's article "Performatives.")

Searle's speech-act theory has been challenged by several thinkers, and in a variety of ways. A wide-ranging critique is offered by F.C. Doerge [3].[7] Collections of articles referring to Searle's account are found in: Burkhardt 1990[8] and Lepore / van Gulick 1991.[9] For a debate which became famous see Jacques Derrida's Limited Inc.[10] and Searle's brief reply in The Construction of Social Reality.[11]

Intentionality and the Background

In Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (1983), Searle sets out to apply certain elements of his account(s) of "illocutionary acts" to the investigation of intentionality. Searle also introduces a technical term the Background,[12] which, according to him, has been the source of much philosophical discussion ("though I have been arguing for this thesis for almost twenty years," Searle writes,[13] "many people whose opinions I respect still disagree with me about it.") Background he calls the set of abilities, capacities, tendencies, and dispositions that humans have and that are not themselves intentional states. Thus, when someone asks us to "cut the cake" we know to use a knife and when someone asks us to "cut the grass" we know to use a lawnmower (and not vice versa), even though the actual request did not include this detail. Searle sometimes supplements his reference to the Background with the concept of the Network, one's network of other beliefs, desires, and other intentional states necessary for any particular intentional state to make sense. Searle argues that the concept of a Background is similar to the concepts provided by several other thinkers, including Wittgenstein's private language argument ("the work of the later Wittgenstein is in large part about the Background"[14]) and Bourdieu's habitus. Searle's ideas of the Background have been clearly influenced by debates with his Berkeley colleague and Heidegger expert Hubert Dreyfus.

To give an example, two chess players might be engaged in a bitter struggle at the board, but they share all sorts of Background presuppositions: that they will take turns to move, that no one else will intervene, that they are both playing to the same rules, that the fire alarm won't go off, that the board won't suddenly disintegrate, that their opponent won't magically turn into a grapefruit, and so on indefinitely. As most of these possibilities won't have occurred to either player,[15] Searle thinks the Background must be unconscious, though elements of it can be called to consciousness (if the fire alarm does go off, say).

Searle often makes strong polemical statements against Continental philosophy, but in fact his relational conception of intentionality is explicit in the Introduction to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Also found there is Searle's notion that intentional criteria are intrinsic to, or constitutive of, intentional experience. Searle characterizes the relational status of intentionality through what he calls "mind-to-world" or "world-to-mind" fit, depending on the role of subjectivity or objectivity in a particular intentional act. Hegel similarly contrasts conditions in which mind or world provides the "standard" for intentional criteria to be satisfied.


Building upon his views about Intentionality, Searle presents a view concerning consciousness in his book The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992). He argues that, starting with behaviorism (an early but influential scientific view, succeeded by many later accounts that Searle also dismisses), much of modern philosophy has tried to deny the existence of consciousness, with little success. In Intentionality, he parodies several alternative theories of consciousness by replacing their accounts of intentionality with comparable accounts of the hand:

No one would think of saying, for example, "Having a hand is just being disposed to certain sorts of behavior such as grasping" (manual behaviorism), or "Hands can be defined entirely in terms of their causes and effects" (manual functionalism), or "For a system to have a hand is just for it to be in a certain computer state with the right sorts of inputs and outputs" (manual Turing machine functionalism), or "Saying that a system has hands is just adopting a certain stance toward it" (the manual stance). (p. 263)

Searle argues that philosophy has been trapped by a false dichotomy: that, on the one hand, the world consists of nothing but objective particles in fields of force, but that yet, on the other hand, consciousness is clearly a subjective first-person experience. Dualists deny the first, but our current knowledge of physics makes their position seem increasingly unlikely, so philosophy, starting with behaviorists, has denied the second. But denying the second has led to endless problems and thus to endless revisions of behaviorism (with functionalism being the one currently in vogue).

Searle says simply that both are true: consciousness is a real subjective experience, caused by the physical processes of the brain. (A view which he suggests might be called biological naturalism.)

Ontological subjectivity

Searle has argued[16] that critics like Daniel Dennett, who (he claims) insist that discussing subjectivity is unscientific because science presupposes objectivity, are making a category error. Perhaps the goal of science is to establish and validate statements which are epistemically objective, (i.e., whose truth can be discovered and evaluated by any interested party), but are not necessarily ontologically objective.

Searle calls any value judgment epistemically subjective. Thus, "McKinley is prettier than Everest" is epistemically subjective, whereas "McKinley is higher than Everest" is epistemically objective. In other words, the latter statement is evaluable (in fact, falsifiable) by an understood ('background') criterion for mountain height, like 'the summit is so many meters above sea level'. No such criteria exist for prettiness.

Beyond this distinction, Searle thinks there are certain phenomena (including all conscious experiences) which are ontologically subjective, i.e. are experienced subjectively. For example, although it might be subjective or objective in the epistemic sense, a doctor's note that a patient suffers from back pain is an ontologically objective claim: it counts as a medical diagnosis only because the existence of back pain is "an objective fact of medical science"[17]. But the pain itself is ontologically subjective: it is only experienced by the person having it.

Searle goes on to affirm that "where consciousness is concerned, the appearance is the reality"[18]. His view that the epistemic and ontological senses of objective/subjective are cleanly separable is crucial to his self-proclaimed biological naturalism.

Artificial intelligence

A consequence of biological naturalism is that if we want to create a conscious being, we will have to duplicate whatever physical processes the brain goes through to cause consciousness. Searle thereby means to contradict to what he calls "Strong AI", defined by the assumption that as soon as a certain kind of software is running on a computer, a conscious being is thereby created.[citation needed]

Searle is widely credited for having stated what is called a "Chinese room" argument, which purports to prove the falsity of strong AI. (Familiarity with the Turing test is useful for understanding the issue.) Assume you do not speak Chinese and imagine yourself in a room with two slits, a book, and some scratch paper. Someone slides you some Chinese characters through the first slit, you follow the instructions in the book, write what it says on the scratch paper, and slide the resulting sheet out the second slit. To people on the outside world, it appears the room speaks Chinese—they slide Chinese statements in one slit and get valid responses in return—yet you do not understand a word of Chinese. This suggests, according to Searle, somehow that no computer can ever understand Chinese or English, because, as the thought experiment suggests, being able to 'translate' Chinese into English does not entail 'understanding' either Chinese or English: all which the person in the thought experiment, and hence a computer, is able to do is to execute certain syntactic manipulations.[19]

Since then, Searle has come up with another argument against strong AI. Strong AI proponents claim that anything that carries out the same informational processes as a human is also conscious. Thus, if we wrote a computer program that was conscious, we could run that computer program on, say, a system of ping-pong balls and beer cups and the system would be equally conscious, because it was running the same information processes.[citation needed]

Searle argues that this is impossible, since consciousness is a physical property, like digestion or fire. No matter how good a simulation of digestion you build on the computer, it will not digest anything; no matter how well you simulate fire, nothing will get burnt. By contrast, informational processes are observer-relative: observers pick out certain patterns in the world and consider them information processes, but information processes are not things-in-the-world themselves. Since they do not exist at a physical level, Searle argues, they cannot have causal efficacy and thus cannot cause consciousness. There is no physical law, Searle insists, that can see the equivalence between a personal computer, a series of ping-pong balls and beer cans, and a pipe-and-water system all implementing the same program.[citation needed]

Social reality

Searle extended his inquiries into observer-relative phenomena by trying to understand social reality. Searle begins by arguing collective intentionality (e.g. "we're going for a walk") is a distinct form of intentionality, not simply reducible to individual intentionality (e.g. "I'm going for a walk with him and I think he thinks he's going for a walk with me and thinks I think I'm going for a walk with him and ...").

Searle's The Construction of Social Reality (1995) addresses the mystery of how social constructs like "baseball" or "money" can exist in a world consisting only of physical particles in fields of force. Adapting an idea by Elizabeth Anscombe in "On Brute Facts," Searle distinguishes between brute facts, like the height of a mountain, and institutional facts, like the score of a baseball game. Aiming at an explanation of social phenomena in terms of Anscombe's notion, he argues that society can be explained in terms of institutional facts, and institutional facts arise out of collective intentionality through logical rules of the form "X counts as Y in C". Thus, for instance, filling out a ballot counts as a vote in a polling place, getting so many votes counts as a victory in an election, getting a victory counts as being elected president in the presidential race, etc.


In Rationality in Action (2001), Searle argues that standard notions of rationality are badly flawed. According to what he calls the Classical Model, rationality is seen as something like a train track: you get on at one point with your beliefs and desires and the rules of rationality compel you all the way to a conclusion. Searle doubts this picture of rationality holds generally.

Searle briefly critiques one particular set of these rules: those of mathematical decision theory. He points out that its axioms require that anyone who valued a quarter and their life would, at some odds, bet their life for a quarter. Searle insists he would never do this and believes that this is perfectly rational. In reality, people take life-threatening chances all the time, as when they take a plane ride or drive their car, whether they overtly "gamble" or not. Mathematical axioms by themselves are a straw man for much of a "decision theory."

Yet most of his attack is directed against the common conception of rationality, which he believes is badly flawed. First, he argues that reasons don't cause you to do anything, because having sufficient reason wills (but doesn't force) you to do that thing. So in any decision situation we experience a gap between our reasons and our actions. For example, when we decide to vote, we do not simply determine that we care most about economic policy and that we prefer candidate Jones's economic policy. We also have to make an effort to cast our vote. Similarly, every time a guilty smoker lights a cigarette they are aware of succumbing to their craving, not merely of acting automatically as they do when they exhale. It is this gap that makes us think we have freedom of the will. Searle thinks whether we really have free will or not is an open question, but considers its absence highly unappealing because it makes the feeling of freedom of will an epiphenomenon, which is highly unlikely from the evolutionary point of view given its biological cost. He also says that all rational activity presupposes free will.

Second, he believes rationality is not a system of rules, but more of an adverb. We see certain behavior as rational, no matter what its source, and our system of rules derives from finding patterns in what we see as rational.

Third, Searle believes we can rationally do things that don't result from our own desires. It is widely believed that one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is", i.e. that facts about how the world is can never tell you what you should do ('Hume's Law'). By contrast, Searle believes the fact that you promised to do something means you should do it. Furthermore, he believes that this provides a desire-independent reason for an action—if you order a drink at a bar, you should pay for it even if you have no desire to. This argument, which he first made in his paper, "How to Derive 'Ought' from 'Is'" (1964),[20] remains highly controversial, but even three decades later Searle continued to defend his view that "..the traditional metaphysical distinction between fact and value cannot be captured by the linguistic distinction between 'evaluative' and 'descriptive' because all such speech act notions are already normative.[21]"

Fourth, Searle argues that much of rational deliberation involves adjusting our (often inconsistent) patterns of desires to decide between outcomes, not the other way around. While in the Classical Model, one would start from a desire to go to Paris greater than that of saving money and calculate the cheapest way to get there, in reality people balance the niceness of Paris against the costs of travel to decide which desire (visiting Paris or saving money) they value more.


  • Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969)
  • The Campus War: A Sympathetic Look at the University in Agony (political commentary; 1971)
  • Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (essay collection; 1979)
  • Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (1983)
  • Minds, Brains and Science: The 1984 Reith Lectures (lecture collection; 1984)
  • John Searle and His Critics (Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, eds.; 1991)
  • The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992)
  • The Construction of Social Reality (1995)
  • The Mystery of Consciousness (review collection; 1997)
  • Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World (summary of earlier work; 1998)
  • Rationality in Action (2001)
  • Consciousness and Language (essay collection; 2002)
  • Freedom and Neurobiology (lecture collection; 2004)
  • Mind: A Brief Introduction (summary of work in philosophy of mind; 2004)
  • Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays (2008)
  • Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization (2010)

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ See Searle v. City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Bd. (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 1251, 1253 [243 Cal.Rptr. 449]
  6. ^ City of Berkeley, "Housing Element"
  7. ^ Doerge (Friedrich Christoph), Illocutionary Acts - Austin's Account and What Searle Made Out of It Tuebingen University (2006) [1]
  8. ^ Burkhardt, Armin (ed.), Speech Acts, Meaning and Intentions: Critical Approaches to the Philosophy of John R. Searle. Berlin / New York 1990.
  9. ^ Lepore, Ernest / van Gulick, Robert (eds): John Searle and his Critics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1991.
  10. ^ Jacques Derrida. Limited Inc.. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1988, 2000.
  11. ^ Searle The Construction of Social Reality (1995) p.157-160
  12. ^ Searle, Intentionality (1983); The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992) ch. 8
  13. ^ "Literary Theory and Its Discontents", New Literary History, 640
  14. ^ Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992) p.177
  15. ^ ibid, p. 185
  16. ^ Searle, J R: The Mystery of Consciousness (1997) p.95-131
  17. ^ Searle, J R: The Mystery of Consciousness (1997) p.122
  18. ^ Searle, J R: The Mystery of Consciousness (1997) p.112
  19. ^ Interview with John R. Searle |
  20. ^ John Searle, "How to Derive 'Ought' from 'Is'", The Philosophical Review, 73:1 (January 1964), 43-58
  21. ^ John Searle in Thomas Mautner, "Dictionary of Philosophy" (Penguin 1996). ISBN 0-140-51250-0

Further reading

By John Searle:

  • Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of language, (1969)
  • The Campus War, (1971)
  • Expression and Meaning, (1979)
    • Introduction
    • Origins of the essays
    • 1. A taxonomy of illocutionary acts
    • 2. Indirect speech acts
    • 3. The logical status of fictional discourse
    • 4. Metaphor
    • 5. Literal meaning
    • 6. Referential and attributive
    • 7. Speech acts and recent linguistics
  • "Minds, Brains and Programs", The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.3, pp. 417-424. (1980)
  • Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (1983), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-52127302-1
  • Minds, Brains and Science (1984), Harvard University Press, hardcover: ISBN 0-67457631-4, paperback: ISBN 0-67457633-0
  • "Is the Brain a Digital Computer?" (1990) Presidential Address to the American Philosophical Association
  • "Collective Intentions and Actions".(1990) in Intentions in Communication J. M. P. R. Cohen, & M. and E. Pollack. Cambridge, Mass.: . MIT Press: 401-416.
  • The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992) ISBN 0-262-69154-X
  • The Problem of Consciousness, Social Research, Vol. 60, No.1, Spring 1993.
  • The Construction of Social Reality (1995)
  • The Mystery of Consciousness, Granta Books, (1997) hardcover: ISBN 1-86207122-5, New York Review Books paperback: ISBN 0-94032206-4
  • Consciousness Ann. Rev. Neurosci. (2000) 23:557-78. Review.
  • Rationality in Action, MIT Press, (2001) – contains (among other things) Searle's account of akrasia
  • Consciousness and Language (2002), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-52159744-7
  • D. Koepsell (ed.) and L. Moss (ed.) "Searle and Smith: A Dialogue" in John Searle's Ideas About Social Reality: Extensions, Criticisms, and Reconstructions (2003), Blackwell, ISBN 978-1405112581
  • Mind: A Brief Introduction (2004), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-515733-8
  • Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language and Political Power (2007), Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-13752-4
  • Dualism revisited J Physiol Paris. 2007 Jul-Nov;101(4-6):169-78. Epub 2008 Jan 19.
  • M. Bennett, D. Dennett, P. Hacker, J. Searle, Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind and Language (2007), Columbia University Press, ISBN 0231140444
  • The Storm Over the University

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

You do not understand your own tradition if you do not see it in relation to others.

John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932) is the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, and is noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and consciousness, on the characteristics of socially constructed versus physical realities, and on practical reason. He was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in 2000.



  • The problem posed by indirect speech acts is the problem of how it is possible for the speaker to say one thing and mean that but also to mean something else.
    • Expression and Meaning, p. 31, Cambridge University Press (1979)
  • One can imagine a computer simulation of the action of peptides in the hypothalamus that is accurate down to the last synapse. But equally one can imagine a computer simulation of the oxidation of hydrocarbons in a car engine or the action of digestive processes in a stomach when it is digesting pizza. And the simulation is no more the real thing in the case of the brain than it is in the case of the car or the stomach. Barring miracles, you could not run your car by doing a computer simulation of the oxidation of gasoline, and you could not digest pizza by running the program that simulates such digestion. It seems obvious that a simulation of cognition will similarly not produce the effects of the neurobiology of cognition.
    • "Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program?", Scientific American (January 1990)
  • The ascription of an unconscious intentional phenomenon to a system implies that the phenomenon is in principle accessible to consciousness.
    • A statement of the author’s “connection principle.”
    • "Consciousness, Explanatory Inversion, and Cognitive Science," The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13, 4 (December 1990): 585-696.
  • Where conscious subjectivity is concerned, there is no distinction between the observation and the thing observed.
    • The Rediscovery of the Mind, p. 97, MIT Press (1992) ISBN 0-262-69154-X

Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969)

Cambridge University Press
  • In the performance of an illocutionary act in the literal utterance of a sentence, the speaker intends to produce a certain effect by means of getting the hearer to recognize his intention to produce that effect; and furthermore, if he is using the words literally, he intends this recognition to be achieved in virtue of the fact that the rules for using the expressions he utters associate the expression with the production of that effect.
    • P. 45
  • Whatever is referred to must exist. Let us call this the axiom of existence.
    • P. 77
  • The general nature of the speech act fallacy can be stated as follows, using “good” as our example. Calling something good is characteristically praising or commending or recommending it, etc. But it is a fallacy to infer from this that the meaning of “good” is explained by saying it is used to perform the act of commendation.
    • P. 139
  • The assertion fallacy ... is the fallacy of confusing the conditions for the performance of the speech act of assertion with the analysis of the meaning of particular words occurring in certain assertions.
    • P. 141
  • Well, what does “good” mean anyway...? As Wittgenstein suggested, “good,” like “game,” has a family of meanings. Prominent among them is this one: “meets the criteria or standards of assessment or evaluation.”
    • P. 152

Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (1983)

Cambridge University Press
  • Where questions of style and exposition are concerned I try to follow a simple maxim: if you can’t say it clearly you don’t understand it yourself.
    • P. x
  • It seems to me obvious that infants and many animals that do not in any ordinary sense have a language or perform speech acts nonetheless have Intentional states. Only someone in the grip of a philosophical theory would deny that small babies can literally be said to want milk and that dogs want to be let out or believe that their master is at the door.
    • P. 5
  • There is probably no more abused a term in the history of philosophy than “representation,” and my use of this term differs both from its use in traditional philosophy and from its use in contemporary cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence.... The sense of “representation” in question is meant to be entirely exhausted by the analogy with speech acts: the sense of “represent” in which a belief represents its conditions of satisfaction is the same sense in which a statement represents its conditions of satisfaction. To say that a belief is a representation is simply to say that it has a propositional content and a psychological mode.
    • P. 12
  • An utterance can have Intentionality, just as a belief has Intentionality, but whereas the Intentionality of the belief is intrinsic the Intentionality of the utterance is derived.
    • P. 27
  • The Intentionality of the mind not only creates the possibility of meaning, but limits its forms.
    • P. 166

The Storm Over the University (December 6, 1990)

The New York Review of Books [1]
  • I cannot recall a time when American education was not in a "crisis." We have lived through Sputnik (when we were "falling behind the Russians"), through the era of "Johnny can't read," and through the upheavals of the Sixties. Now a good many books are telling us that the university is going to hell in several different directions at once. I believe that, at least in part, the crisis rhetoric has a structural explanation: since we do not have a national consensus on what success in higher education would consist of, no matter what happens, some sizable part of the population is going to regard the situation as a disaster. As with taxation and relations between the sexes, higher education is essentially and continuously contested territory. Given the history of that crisis rhetoric, one's natural response to the current cries of desperation might reasonably be one of boredom.
  • The student should have enough knowledge of his or her cultural tradition to know how it got to be the way it is. This involves both political and social history, on the one hand, as well as the mastery of some of the great philosophical and literary texts of the culture on the other. It involves reading not only texts that are of great value, like those of Plato, but many less valuable that have been influential, such as the works of Marx. For the United States, the dominant tradition is, and for the foreseeable future, will remain the European tradition. The United States is, after all, a product of the European Enlightenment. However, you do not understand your own tradition if you do not see it in relation to others. Works from other cultural traditions need to be studied as well.
  • You need to know enough of the natural sciences so that you are not a stranger in the world.
  • You need to know at least one foreign language well enough so that you can read the best literature that that language has produced in the original, and so you carry on a reasonable conversation and have dreams in that language. There are several reasons why this is crucial, but the most important is perhaps this: you can never understand one language until you understand at least two.
  • You need to know enough philosophy so that the methods of logical analysis are available to you to be used as a tool. One of the most depressing things about educated people today is that so few of them, even among professional intellectuals, are able to follow the steps of a simple logical argument.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you need to acquire the skills of writing and speaking that make for candor, rigor, and clarity. You cannot think clearly if you cannot speak and write clearly.
  • Just acquiring this amount of "education" will not, by itself, make you an educated person, even less will it give you what Oakeshott calls "judgment." But if the manner of instruction is adequate, the student should be able to acquire this much knowledge in a way that combines intellectual openness, critical scrutiny, and logical clarity. If so, learning will not stop when the student leaves the university.

Minds, Brains and Programs (1980)

Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • I want to block some common misunderstandings about "understanding": In many of these discussions one finds a lot of fancy footwork about the word "understanding."
  • I will argue that in the literal sense the programmed computer understands what the car and the adding machine understand, namely, exactly nothing.
  • In many cases it is a matter for decision and not a simple matter of fact whether x understands y; and so on.
  • My car and my adding machine understand nothing: they are not in that line of business.
  • Our tools are extensions of our purposes, and so we find it natural to make metaphorical attributions of intentionality to them; but I take it no philosophical ice is cut by such examples.
  • The sense in which an automatic door "understands instructions" from its photoelectric cell is not at all the sense in which I understand English.
  • There are clear cases in which "understanding" literally applies and clear cases in which it does not apply; and these two sorts of cases are all I need for this argument.
  • We often attribute "understanding" and other cognitive predicates by metaphor and analogy to cars, adding machines, and other artifacts, but nothing is proved by such attributions.

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