Searle’s “Making Social World”


John Searle in his book Making the Social World discusses the ontological basis of human civilization. He wants to understand how our understanding of the physical world, reflected in natural sciences, is compatible with our understanding of our social life reflected in social sciences. He believes that any inquiry attempting to answer this question should not ignore two fundamental facts. The first fundamental fact is that it is a mistake to think that we live in two worlds; one natural and the other social; they are both one world. The second fundamental is that any account of this sort cannot ignore two basic facts; one is materialism and the other is evolutionary biology. Hence, a philosophy of society grounded on atomic theory of matter, as well as unity of the world and evolutionary biology. Philosophy of society is concerns with the nature of society or more precisely, as he puts it, “studying the mode of existence of social entities,” like governments, cocktail parties, money, and in general social institutions.

Each discipline seeks to understand the most fundamental principles of its subject-matter. For instance in chemistry the fundamental principle is atomic bonds, in physics forces between objects, in medicine is health; by the same token, philosophy of science has a fundamental principle, which he thinks is the fact that society has a “logical (conceptual and propositional) structure.” Consequently, the main question of a philosophy of society is to understand the logical structure of society. In order to show that how a philosophy of society studies the logical structure of society, he explains half a dozen concepts that are related to that principle.

The first principle is “status function.” One of the distinctive of humans’ social life is that humans have authority to assign function for things and other people. The second concepts is the collective intentionality means collective acceptance or recognition of a status function. For instance, society has authority to assign certain function to a line of stones and considered as a boarder between tribes. However, for this line of stone to continue to perform its function as boarder, it requires other people to recognize the function it supposed to perform. Without collective intentionality, it ceases to be a boarder. As he maintains, “there are status functions that exist in virtue of collective intentionality.” The third concept that he explains is “deontic power.” He believes status functions carry deontic powers. That is, they carry rights, duties, obligations, requirements, permissions, authorizations, and entitlements. Since status functions carry deontic power they make social bonds possible.

One of the social effects of status functions since they carry deontic powers, they can compel people to do thinks despite of their desires or inclinations. For example, an employee is not allowed to take a vacation whenever, he/she wants, and they need to perform their social duties even if they do not feel like it. So deontic powers provide justifications for us to delay satisfying our impulses because the duties that we need to perform. He calls this notion “ desire independent reasons for action.” The fifth concept is “constitutive rules.” Some social actions can exist independent from rules, like studying; however, studying in an educational institution is guided by certain rules. There are other types of facts that cannot exist independent from rules, like the game of chess, and it is nothing but a set of rules. Some social facts are like the game of chess and do not exist independent from rules that bring them into existence. The last notion is the objective nature of institutional facts. Institutional facts are not “brute facts.” But they exist by collective agreement and acceptance. As he says, “An institution is a system of constitutive rules, and such a system automatically creates the possibility of institutional facts.”

Amin Sophiamehr

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