Searle and the Philosophical Mind
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
Searle and the Philosophical Mind Monday, October 26, 2015
I'm reading some of John Searle's works to better understand his philosophy of mind in preparation for a writing project of my own. These first notes are on Freedom and Neurobiology.  This very short little book seemed to be an overview of most of Searle's thinking on consciousness and freedom so I thought it would be a good place to start.  As it turns out, Mind, Language and Society is a better synopsis of Searle's thought, but I think my notes below are consistent with it.  

These notes are intended to restate Searle's positions as accurately as possible without comment or critique.  My comments on Searle's ideas will follow in a seperate post.  

Searle begins with the question:

How Do We Fit in?
According the Searle, the overriding question in contemporary philosophy is "How do we fit in?" More elaborately, how does the human being's self conception as "mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents" fit into the universe of "brute facts," that is, a "universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles."

See the diagram to the right for a breakdown of this question into its constituent parts.
The human self-conception as "mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents" is based on the following attributes:
  1. Consciousness
  2. Intentionality
  3. Language
  4. Rationality
  5. Free will
  6. Social institutions
  7. Politics
  8. Ethics
These are described briefly below in the way Searle presents them, i.e., as they might allow a "fit" between the human self-conception and the universe of "brute facts."

Consciousness is the subjective sense of "you" that allows you to experience the world in all of its qualities in a personal way that further emphasizes your sense of self. For Searle, consciousness is naturalistic and irreducible. What does this mean?

Naturalistic means that it's strictly a feature of the natural, physical world--it has no origin in or connection to God or anything supernatural. The physical world is one world, and is the only world we live in.  For this reason Searle rejects descriptions of consciousness that rely on dualism or other multiple isms. Since consciousness is solely a feature of living things, this also means that consciousness is biological, and should be seen in the same way we would look at any other physical, biological function--digestion, circulation, respiration, etc.  

Irreducible means that in can't be reduced to simpler things, if by doing so the subjective first person character of consciousness and intentionality is eliminated in favor of some objective third person ontology (Searle's use of the term "ontology" here needs explication; perhaps more on this later). For this reason Searle rejects materialism as a description of consciousness.

Reduction here needs some additional clarification. Since consciousness is naturalistic, it never resides anywhere but in the physical body, which in this case centers on the nerve cells of the brain and their connections.  So in this sense our consciousness in all of its manifestations is indeed reducible to the electro-chemical processes of the brain. But in this reduction consciousness becomes a third-person object that is viewed from outside of itself, like a stream in its course. What is left out is the subjective first person character of consciousness, which can only be observed interiorly. Consciousness can therefore only be reduced to simpler parts so long as its first person character is not eliminated in the process.

Intentionality refers to states of mind that refer to, or are "about," something else.  Pain, for instance, is not an intentional state because it is a sensation that results from a direct stimulus. Fear of pain, on the other hand, is an intentional state because it exists only in reference to something else, in this case pain. Intentionality encompasses a whole complement of mental states such as beliefs, desires, hopes, fears, and concepts that are central to life of human beings and cause people to act in the world, but which may not exist in the physical world at all.
Searle refers to language as "derived intentionality." This refers to the special ability of language to represent intentional mental states through the meaning of sentences and speech acts.  As with consciousness, Searle sees language as biological, and advocates seeing language as "a manifestation and extension of more biologically primitive forms of intentionality."
Rationality is not a seperate faculty, but rather an internal constraint on intentionality and language. Language allows people to make desire independent reasons for action that by their existence compete with actions based on desire or other desire independent reasons, forcing a consideration of the best possible action. This mental act of "consideration" prior to acting in the physical world is rationality (at least insofar as it is actually performed). Since rationality is essentially the process of examining alternatives to a given action and choosing one to preform, it presupposes free will, without which the process of rationality has no space to maneuver.      
Free Will
Rationality presupposes free will but how can free will exist? Exist, that is, "in a world where all events, at least at the macro level, apparently have causally sufficient antecedent conditions?"  Free will is thus an unsolved problem for Searle but he believes it will be shown to be an illusion. More on this below.  
Society and Institutions
Social institutions are an objective class of facts (e.g., marriage. property, money, taxes) that exist only because we believe that they exist. Searle believes that we must see these "as extensions of our capacity for collective intentionality and our capacity for language," which together give such facts the possibility of existence.
Searle refers to John Rawls' Theory of Justice as a rational description of justice that's consistent with his effort to fit the human self-conception into the universe of brute facts.
In keeping with Searles' strictly naturalistic explanation of the human self-conception, ethics "would be based on two other completely natural phenomena, first, our basic biological needs, and second, our biologically given capacity for rationality, which is itself a constituative and structural feature of both intentionality and language."  
Free will is problematic because it asserts that some actions are not causally determined, but can rather be chosen with seeming disregard for the causal chain of physical events that preceed any action. As Searle puts it, "free will asserts that some actions are not preceded by sufficient causal conditions." Since the concensus of science is that natural phenomena should be completely deterministic, free will must be an illusion, however difficult it may be to accept this.

Searle attributes the "feeling" of free will to what he terms a neurological "gap." He observes that there is a short interval between the thought of doing something and actually doing it. But since all thought is physical, the gap is really between one conscious state and another, and not, at it would appear, between thought and action, since the action is itself a conscious state. It is this interval that creates the illusion that we are deciding to do something before we do it. The reality is that our actions are determined long before we act since they are always part of a larger causal chain, and it is the neurological gap between conscious states that created the illusion that we are making choices about our actions.

It should be emphasized that this conscious experience of the "gap" occurs only in deliberation  


Rationality presupposes free will.
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