L. Tsohatzidis (Ed.). John Searle’s Philosophy of Language.
Force, Meaning and Mind.
of the major contributions to the philosophy of language in the 20th
century was John Searle’s book Speech
Acts (1969). Searle clearly superseded
to the two parts Searle himself (in about 35 pages) sets out his current view on
the philosophy of language. Searle unites his work on language and the mind in a
perspective which sees ‘language as a natural extension of non-linguistic
biological capacities’ (15) and an according primacy of the mental/intentional
over the linguistic. The subject-predicate structure we find in sentences is
already ‘built into the very logical structures of biological
intentionality’ (35). The intentional and the theory about ‘directions of
fit’ between the mind and the world (beliefs as mind fitting the world,
desires making the world fitting to the mind) found the corresponding
classification of (some) illocutionary forces (like assertions and orders); some
illocutionary forces (like declaratives) arise only within a community governed
by social institutions. As language is ‘essentially social’ (17) a social
ontology of norms and commitments (e.g. in making speech acts of some type)
supplements the theory of the mind. Institutional reality (from money to
government) ‘is essentially linguistic’ (40). The ‘first primary
function’ (28) of language is, according to Searle, communication (i.e. not
mental representation). Searle restates his thesis that the pragmatic rules are
not components of individual languages but universal. What language provides
beyond intentionality are ‘indefinitely manipulatable structures with semantic
content’ (24). A speaker expresses her beliefs imposing some conditions of
satisfaction on expressions and conventions ensue as this regularly succeeds.
Nevertheless ‘speaker intentionality must be logically prior’ (32).
papers in the first part take on Searle’s work in the philosophy of mind.
Recanati and Kent Bach in their respective papers aim at Searle’s well-known
analysis of perception, which claims that part of the content
of a perception is a self-reflexive claim that the object perceived is
(partially) causally responsible for the perceptual state. Recanati levels the
criticism of misplaced information at
Searle arguing that this self-reflexive claim is not part of the (narrow)
propositional content of the perception, as Searle claims, but part of the
content provided by the mode of the
state (i.e. being a perception). In a way this is ironic, since in Speech
Acts Searle accused ordinary language philosophy of confusing conditions of
semantic content with conditions of illocutionary mode. Placing the reflexive
content in the structure of the act fits better with ascribing perceptions to
newborns and animals, which both lack concepts of causality. Bach also addresses
the mode/content-distinction arguing that Searle’s causal self-reflexive
condition in the (narrow) content does not account for reference to particular
objects. Bach opts for considering the mode as carrying a token-reflexive
condition of satisfaction to the confronted situation.
much more radical criticism by Christopher Gauker denies the primacy of the
intentional. He contends that natural language ‘is the medium of conceptual
thought’ (125). Speech acts are not defined in terms of intentions, but in
terms of the conventions of appraisal that constitute them. In the end this
theory is not as radical as it sounds, since Gauker admits that much of our
mental life does not consist in conceptual thought in his sense. Strangely
enough conceptual thought consists in ‘imagining conversations’, but ‘is
not to be identified with verbal imagery’ (141).
papers in the second part focus mainly on speech act theory, especially on the
relation between force and meaning.
mediating between the first and the second part Mitchell Green asks how speech
acts express psychological states. One expresses a state using some linguistic
device by taking responsibility according to the constitutive commitments of
language. Thus understanding expressing
thought not in psychological but normative terms is close to Searle’s own
papers in the second part take up the discussion about content and mode in the
form of the inner linguistic distinction between content/meaning and force.
Savas Tsohatzidis attacks the content
invariance thesis, which states that the (propositional) content stays the
same when we switch from one illocutionary force to another. Searle claims this
to be the case, inter alia, with
respect to assertions and yes-no questions. Tsohatzidis shows that this will not
work. The content of a yes-no questions remains the same whether we use a
sentence or its negation (e.g. “Is Peter drunk?”/”Is Peter not drunk?”),
which, of course, does not hold for assertions. Tsohatzidis proposes that yes-no
questions have no propositional content at all, but
are ‘higher order illocutionary acts’ the content of which are
‘sets of possible first-order illocutionary acts’ (265), i.e. sets of
possible answers. He also shows that Searle’s claim that questions are
reducible to directives (i.e. ordering a statement by the addressee) is
inconsistent with the content invariance thesis as the content of a directive concerns an
act by the addressee (like speaking about Peter)
and not the (supposed) content of the question (like Peter’s drunkenness).
Kepa Korta and John Perry take up the idea of reflexive truth/satisfaction
conditions. Perry himself has developed a theory of reflexive truth conditions
of utterances. Relating this theory to the more traditional speech act framework
they see referential content (in Perry’s theory) corresponding to the
locutionary act (in speech act theory), and reflexive content to force.
Searle’s essay the anthology provides an update of his view of the relation
between the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind. Not all essays
discuss Searle’s work in detail: some rather explain their own alternatives
views. There is also no reply by Searle to those essays that challenges his
position. Some of the essays, nonetheless, put forth state of the art criticism
of Searle’s position and develop refinements within speech act theory.
Everyone interested in speech act theory – especially the relation between
force and content – will benefit from reading John
Searle’s Philosophy of Language.
Manuel Bremer, 2008.