Monday, February 11, 2008

Papineau, David. "Power and Consciousness on the Clapham Omnibus [on John Searle]." TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT January 16, 2008.

Searle is American through and through, but his formative philosophical years were spent in Oxford. He arrived as a Rhodes Scholar in 1952 and stayed for seven years, first as an undergraduate and then as a don at Christ Church. Back then, Oxonian “linguistic philosophy” was the dominant philosophical influence in the English-speaking world. It taught that careful attention to everyday language is the way to solve philosophical problems. Our common language embodies the accumulated wisdom of past generations, J. L. Austin and P. F. Strawson assured their students. Philosophical clarity is best achieved by applying the intricate web of distinctions implicit in everyday discourse. Searle’s earliest published work was squarely in this tradition, focusing on foundational issues in the workings of ordinary language. But at the end of the 1950s he returned to America and joined the Department of Philosophy at Berkeley, where he has remained ever since. Over the years Searle has drifted away from his Oxford roots. Initially he continued his work in the philosophy of language. His first book, Speech Acts, published in 1969, developed Austin’s analysis of the different ways in which language can be used. But by the 1980s he had ceased to place language at the centre of the philosophical enterprise, and had come to regard the human mind as the more fundamental realm, with language merely the medium by which we make thought public. Moreover, there is something decidedly unOxonian about Searle’s current programme of explaining how humans fit into the world of basic science. His teachers would have viewed any such ambition as a species of American vulgarity. Oxford philosophy has long been deeply anti-scientific, regarding it as some kind of category mistake to suppose that scientific findings can in any way threaten or illuminate our everyday understanding of people. . . . Read the rest here:

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