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John R. Searle

The Construction of Social Reality





Contents. 7

Acknowledgments. 7

Introduction. 8

1. The Building Blocks of Social Reality  11

The Metaphysical Burden of Social Reality  11

The Building Blocks of Social Reality 3  12

The Invisible Structure of Social Reality  13

Fundamental Ontology  15

Objectivity and Our Contemporary World View   17

The Distinction Between Intrinsic and Observer-Relative Features of the World  19

The Assignment of Function  23

Collective Intentionality  34

Figure 1.1  37

Figure 1.2  37

Constitutive Rules and the Distinction Between Brute and Institutional Facts  37

2. Creating Institutional Facts  40

Some Apparent Features of Social Reality  40

1. The Self-Referentiality of Many Social Concepts 40

2. The Use of Performative Utterances in the Creation of Institutional Facts 43

3. The Logical Priority of Brute Facts over Institutional Facts 43

4. Systematic0020Relationships Among Institutional Facts. 44

5. The Primacy of Social Acts over Social Objects, of Processes over Products 45

6. The Linguistic Component of Many Institutional Facts 46

From Collective Intentionality to Institutional Facts: The Example of Money  46

Constitutive Rules: X counts as Y in C   53

Why Self-Referentiality Does Not Result in Circularity  61

The Use of Performative Utterances in the Creation of Institutional Facts  63

The Logical Priority of Brute Facts over Institutional Facts  65

Systematic Relations and the Primacy of the Act over the Object 66

3. Language and Social Reality  68

Language-Dependent Thoughts and Language-Dependent Facts  69

Why Are Any Thoughts Language Dependent?  72

Games and Institutional Reality  74

Does Language Require Language?  81

Other Functions of Language in Institutional Facts  86

4. The General Theory of Institutional Facts  87

Part I: Iteration, Interaction, and Logical Structure  87

Generalizing the Analysis  87

First, the structure "X counts as Y in C" can be iterated. 88

Second, there can be interlocking systems of such iterated structures operating through time. 88

Codification. 96

Some of the Issues at Stake in the Analysis  98

Some Types of Imposition of Status-Functions  103

1. Symbolic Powers: The Creation of Meaning  109

2. Deontic Powers: The Creation of Rights and Obligations 109

3. Honor: Status for Its Own Sake  111

4. Procedural Steps on the Way to Power and Honor 111

The Logical Structure of Conventional Power  113

Conclusion. 119

5. The General Theory of Institutional Facts  121

Part II: Creation, Maintenance, and the Hierarchy  121

The Creation and Maintenance of Institutional Facts  121

The Creation of Institutional Facts  123

The Continued Existence of Institutional Facts  125

Status Indicators. 127

The Hierarchy of Facts: From Brute to Institutional 128

Figure 5.1. Hierarchical Taxonomy of (Certain Types of) Facts  129

Institutional Facts and the Background of Capacities  133

6. Background Abilities and the Explanation of Social Phenomena  134

Constitutive Rules and Causation  134

What Is the Background and How Does It Work?  136

Background Causation  145

7. Does the Real World Exist?  155

Part I: Attacks on Realism   156

Some Presuppositions of Our Contemporary World View   156

What Is Realism?. 159

The Argument from Conceptual Relativity Against Realism   167

Figure 7.1  168

Second: There is one and only one correct conceptual scheme for describing  171

The Verificationist Argument 174

The Ding an Sich Argument 180

Diagnosis of the Problem   182

8. Does the Real World Exist?  183

Part II: Could There Be a Proof of External Realism?  183

Realism as a Background Condition of Intelligibility  183

A "Transcendental" Argument for External Realism. 189

The Distinction Between Brute Reality and Socially Constructed Reality  196

Strengths and Limitations of the Foregoing Arguments  200

9. Truth and Correspondence  203

The Intuitive Idea of Truth as Correspondence  204

Strawson's Objections to the Correspondence Theory  207

Truth, Facts, Disquotation, and Correspondence  211

Designing a Language  220

Summary and Conclusion  223


Conclusion. 230

Endnotes. 232

Chapter 1. The Building Blocks of Social Reality  232

Chapter 2. Creating Institutional Facts  233

Chapter 3. Language and Social Reality  234

Chapter 4: The General Theory of Institutional Facts Part I: Iteration, Interaction, and Logical Structure  234

Chapter 6. Background Abilities and the Explanation of Social Phenomena  234

Chapter 7. Does the Real World Exist? Part I: Attacks on Realism   235

Chapter 8. Does the Real World Exist?  236

Name Index. 238

Subject Index. 239




The Construction of Social Reality



THE FREE PRESS New York London Toronto Sydney Tokyo Singapore



John R. Searle

The Construction of Social Reality



Copyright © 1995 by John R. Searle

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher.

The Free Press

A Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020

Printed in the United States of America

printing number

3456789 10

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Searle, John R.

The construction of social reality/ John R. Searle.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 0-02-928045-1

1. Social epistemology.

2. Philosophy of mind. I. Title.

BD175.S43 1995






For Dagmar





Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xi

1. The Building Blocks of Social Reality 1

2. Creating Institutional Facts 31

3. Language and Social Reality 59

4. The General Theory of Institutional Facts Part I: Iteration, Interaction, and Logical Structure 79

5. The General Theory of Institutional Facts 113 Part II: Creation, Maintenance, and the Hierarchy

6. Background Abilities and the

Explanation of Social Phenomena 127

7. Does the Real World Exist? 149

Part I: Attacks on Realism

8. Does the Real World Exist? 177 Part II: Could There Be a Proof of External Realism?

9. Truth and Correspondence 199

Conclusion 227

Endnotes 229

Name Index 237

Subject Index 239



The first version of these ideas was presented as the Immanuel Kant lectures in Stanford in 1992. Subsequent versions were presented as the Thalheimer Lectures at Johns Hopkins, the Hempel lectures at Princeton, and as a series of lectures at the College de France in Paris. I have also presented this material in seminars in Berkeley and at the University of Graz in Austria. Several of my colleagues read parts of the manuscript and made helpful criticisms. Special thanks are due to Kent Bach, Martin Jones, Lisa Lloyd, Brian McLaughlin, Stephen Neale, and Neil Smelser.

In addition to the lecture series and university courses just mentioned, I have also had the opportunity to try out some of these ideas in several universities in the United States and Europe. We often hear how dreadful contemporary intellectual life is, but I have to say from my own experience that one of the great pleasures of the present era is that one can go just about anywhere in the world and lecture, in English, to audiences that are sympathetic, intelligent, helpful and sophisticated in analytic philosophy. I cannot exaggerate the extent to which I have benefited from the comments of students, friends, colleagues, and total strangers. I really can't thank all of the people who made helpful comments, simply because I do not remember all of them. Among those I do remember, I am especially grateful to Pierre Bourdieu, Herman Capellen, Hubert Dreyfus, Gilbert Harman,

-x Acknowledgments-

Robert Harnish, Meleana Isaacs, Saul Kripke, Francois Recanati, David Sosa, and Charles Spinosa.

For exceptional hospitality during the course of writing this book, I am grateful to Ann and Gordon Getty and Drue Heinz. Thanks are also due to the entire passenger list of the Midnight Saga and the Rosenkavalier for putting up so graciously with my relentless pounding on the computer.

Special thanks to my research assistant, Jennifer Hudin, who was helpful at every step of the way, from the earliest formulation of the basic ideas to the final preparation of the index. As always my greatest debts are to my wife, Dagmar Searle, to whom this book is dedicated.



We live in exactly one world, not two or three or seventeen. As far as we currently know, the most fundamental features of that world are as described by physics, chemistry, and the other natural sciences. But the existence of phenomena that are not in any obvious way physical or chemical gives rise to puzzlement. How, for example, can there be states of consciousness or meaningful speech acts as parts of the physical world? Many of the philosophical problems that most interest me have to do with how the various parts of the world relate to each other-how does it all hang together?-and much of my work in philosophy has been addressed to these questions. The theory of speech acts is in part an attempt to answer the question, How do we get from the physics of utterances to meaningful speech acts performed by speakers and writers? The theory of the mind I have attempted to develop is in large part an attempt to answer the question, How does a mental reality, a world of consciousness, intentionality, and other mental phenomena, fit into a world consisting entirely of physical particles in fields of force? This book extends the investigation to social reality: How can there be an objective world of money, property, marriage, governments, elections, football games, cocktail parties and law courts in a world that consists entirely of physical particles in fields of force, and in which some of

-xii Introduction-

these particles are organized into systems that are conscious biological beasts, such as ourselves?

Because these questions concern what might be thought of as problems in the foundations of the social sciences, one might suppose that they would have been addressed and solved already in the various social sciences, and in particular by the great founders of the social sciences in the nineteenth century and the early parts of the twentieth century. I am certainly no expert on this literature, but as far as I can tell, the questions I am addressing in this book have not been satisfactorily answered in the social sciences. We are much in debt to the great philosopher-sociologists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-one thinks especially of Weber, Simmel, and Durkheim-but from such acquaintance with their works as I have, it seems to me that they were not in a position to answer the questions that puzzle me, because they did not have the necessary tools. That is, through no fault of their own, they lacked an adequate theory of speech acts, of performatives, of intentionality, of collective intentionality, of rule-governed behavior, etc. This book is an attempt to answer a set of traditional questions using resources that I and others have developed while working on other related questions.

A word about the organization of the book. The main argument is in the first half, Chapters 1 through 5. In these chapters I attempt to develop a general theory of the ontology of social facts and social institutions. The main question is, How do we construct an objective social reality? I apologize for a certain amount of repetition in these chapters, but in the nature of the case I was forced to go over and over the same ground to try to make sure I was getting it right. In Chapter 6 I try to locate the explanatory force of the constitutive rules of human instititions, given the puzzling fact that the agents in question are typically unconscious of the rules. To do that I have to explain my notion of the "Background" of nonconscious nonrepresentational capacities and abilities that enable us to cope with the world. In early drafts of the book I devoted an initial chapter to defending realism, the

-Introduction xiii-

idea that there is a real world independent of our thought and talk, and to defending the correspondence conception of truth, the idea that our true statements are typically made true by how things are in the real world that exists independently of the statements. I think that realism and a correspondence conception are essential presuppositions of any sane philosophy, not to mention of any science, and I wanted to make clear some of my reasons for thinking so. But what was originally intended as fairly short introductory material developed a life of its own, as is usually the case with such large philosophical questions. When the first chapter grew to three I decided to move all of this material to the back of the book, lest it overbalance my main argument. Chapters 7 and 8 are discussions of realism, Chapter 9 is a defense of a version of the correspondence conception of truth.

1. The Building Blocks of Social Reality

The Metaphysical Burden of Social Reality

This book is about a problem that has puzzled me for a long time: there are portions of the real world; objective facts in the world; that are only facts by human agreement. In a sense there are things that exist only because we believe them to exist. I am thinking of things like money, property, governments, and marriages. Yet many facts regarding these things are "objective" facts in the sense that they are not a matter of your or my preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes. I am thinking of such facts as that I am a citizen of the United States, that the piece of paper in my pocket is a five dollar bill, that my younger sister got married on December 14, that I own a piece of property in Berkeley, and that the New York Giants won the 1991 superbowl. These contrast with such

-2 The Construction of Social Reality-

-4 The Construction of Social Reality-

Notice, furthermore, that though my description was intended to be as neutral as possible, the vocabulary automatically introduces normative criteria of assessment. Waiters can be competent or incompetent, honest or dishonest, rude or polite. Beer can be sour, flat, tasty, too warm, or simply delicious. Restaurants can be elegant, ugly, refined, vulgar, or out of fashion, and so on with the chairs and tables, the money, and the French phrases.

If, after leaving the restaurant, I then go to listen to a lecture or attend a party, the size of the metaphysical burden I am carrying only increases; and one sometimes wonders how anyone can bear it.

The Invisible Structure of Social Reality

One reason we can bear the burden is that the complex structure of social reality is, so to speak, weightless and invisible. The child is brought up in a culture where he or she simply takes social reality for granted. We learn to perceive and use cars, bathtubs, houses, money, restaurants, and schools without reflecting on the special features of their ontology and without being aware that they have a special ontology. They seem as natural to us as stones and water and trees. Indeed, if anything, in most cases it is harder to see objects as just natural phenomena, stripped of their functional roles, than it is to see our surroundings in terms of their socially defined functions. So children learn to see moving cars, dollar bills, and full bathtubs; and it is only by force of abstraction that they can see these as masses of metal in linear trajectories, cellulose fibers with green and gray stains, or enamel-covered iron concavities containing water.

The complex ontology seems simple; the simple ontology seems difficult. This is because social reality is created by us for our purposes and seems as readily intelligible to us as those purposes themselves. Cars are for driving; dollars for earning, spending, and saving; bathtubs for taking a bath. But once there is no

-The Building Blocks of Social Reality 5-

-6 The Construction of Social Reality-

things that exist. We will have to make some substantive presuppositions about how the world is in fact in order that we can even pose the questions we are trying to answer. We will be talking about how social reality fits into a larger ontology, but in order to do that, we will have to describe some of the features of that larger ontology.

The truth is, for us, most of our metaphysics is derived from physics (including the other natural sciences). Many features of the contemporary natural science conception of reality are still in dispute and still problematic. For example, one might think that the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe is by no means well substantiated. But two features of our conception of reality are not up for grabs. They are not, so to speak, optional for us as citizens of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. It is a condition of your being an educated person in our era that you are apprised of these two theories: the atomic theory of matter and the evolutionary theory of biology.

The picture of reality derived from these two theories, to state it very crudely, is as follows: The world consists entirely of entities that we find it convenient, though not entirely accurate, to describe as particles. These particles exist in fields of force, and are organized into systems. The boundaries of systems are set by causal relations. Examples of systems are mountains, planets, H2O molecules, rivers, crystals, and babies. Some of these systems are living systems; and on our little earth, the living systems contain a lot of carbon-based molecules, and make a very heavy use of hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Types of living systems evolve through natural selection, and some of them have evolved certain sorts of cellular structures, specifically, nervous systems capable of causing and sustaining consciousness. Consciousness is a biological, and therefore physical, though of course also mental, feature of certain higher-level nervous systems, such as human brains and a large number of different types of animal brains.

With consciousness comes intentionality, the capacity of the mind to represent objects and states of affairs in the world other

-The Building Blocks of Social Reality 7-

-The Building Blocks of Social Reality 23-

functions a special subclass, where the function assigned is that of intentionality: For example, the function of the sentence "Snow is white" is to represent, truly or falsely, the state of affairs that snow is white.5

Just to keep the terminology straight I will adopt the following conventions.

1. Since all functions are observer relative I will speak of all functions as assigned or equivalently as imposed.

2. Within the category of assigned functions some are agentive because they are matters of the use to which agents put entities, e.g., the function of bathtubs is to take baths in.

3. Within the category of assigned functions some are nonagentive because they are naturally occurring causal processes to which we have assigned a purpose, e.g., the function of the heart is to pump blood.

4. Within the category of agentive functions is a special category of those entities whose agentive function is to symbolize, represent, stand for, or-in general-to mean something or other.

Collective Intentionality

Many species of animals, our own especially, have a capacity for collective intentionality. By this I mean not only that they engage in cooperative behavior, but that they share intentional states such as beliefs, desires, and intentions. In addition to singular intentionality there is also collective intentionality. Obvious examples are cases where I am doing something only as part of our doing something. So if I am an offensive lineman playing in a football game, I might be blocking the defensive end, but I am blocking only as part of our executing a pass play. If I am a violinist in an orchestra I play my part in our performance of the symphony.

Even most forms of human conflict require collective intentionality. In order that two men should engage in a prizefight, for

-24 The Construction of Social Reality-

-26 The Construction of Social Reality-

noun phrase referring to me. The form that my collective intentionality can take is simply "we intend," "we are doing so-and-so," and the like. In such cases, I intend only as part of our intending. The intentionality that exists in each individual head has the form "we intend."7

The traditional picture of "we intentions" looks like this:

Figure 1.1

The alternative that I am proposing looks like this:

Figure 1.2

By stipulation I will henceforth use the expression "social fact" to refer to any fact involving collective intentionality. So, for example, the fact that two people are going for a walk together is a social fact. A special subclass of social facts are institutional facts, facts involving human institutions. So, for example, the fact that this piece of paper is a twenty dollar bill is an institutional fact. I will have a great deal more to say about institutional facts.

-The Building Blocks of Social Reality 27-

Constitutive Rules and the Distinction Between Brute and Institutional Facts

In my work on the philosophy of language8 I suggested the beginnings of an answer to the question concerning the relationships between those features of the world that are matters of brute physics and biology, on the one hand, and those features of the world that are matters of culture and society, on the other. Without implying that these are the only kinds of facts that exist in the world, we need to distinguish between brute facts such as the fact that the sun is ninety-three million miles from the earth and institutional facts such as the fact that Clinton is president. Brute facts exist independently of any human institutions; institutional facts can exist only within human institutions. Brute facts require the institution of language in order that we can state the facts, but the brute facts themselves exist quite independently of language or of any other institution. Thus the statement that the sun is ninety-three million miles from the earth requires an institution of language and an institution of measuring distances in miles, but the fact stated, the fact that there is a certain distance between the earth and the sun, exists independently of any institution. Institutional facts, on the other hand, require special human institutions for their very existence. Language is one such institution; indeed, it is a whole set of such institutions.

And what are these "institutions"? To answer this question, I introduced another distinction, the distinction between what I call "regulative" and "constitutive" rules.9 Some rules regulate antecedently existing activities. For example, the rule "drive on the right-hand side of the road" regulates driving; but driving can exist prior to the existence of that rule. However, some rules do not merely regulate, they also create the very possibility of certain activities. Thus the rules of chess do not regulate an antecedently existing activity. It is not the case that there were a lot of people pushing bits of wood around on boards, and in order to prevent

-28 The Construction of Social Reality-


2. Creating Institutional Facts

In this chapter I describe the elementary construction of social facts and the logical structure of the development of institutional facts from simpler forms of social facts. To do so, I will use the apparatus of agentive functions, collective intentionality, and constitutive rules. I will also attempt to explain several puzzling features of social reality.

Some Apparent Features of Social Reality

To begin, let us identify some of the apparent features of social reality we would like to explain. Because I believe philosophical investigations should begin naively (how they proceed and conclude is another matter), I will simply list half a dozen of what appear to be naive, intuitive features of social reality, including features of institutional facts, such as, for example, the fact that I am an American citizen, as well as features of those social facts that do

-32 The Construction of Social Reality-

-Creating Institutional Facts 57-

cial objects is that the "objects" are really designed to serve agentive functions, and have little interest for us otherwise. What we think of as social objects, such as governments, money, and universities, are in fact just placeholders for patterns of activities. I hope it is clear that the whole operation of agentive functions and collective intentionality is a matter of ongoing activities and the creation of the possibility of more ongoing activities.

Unconsciously, we have throughout this discussion been acknowledging this point by our talk of institutional facts rather than institutional objects. Such material objects as are involved in institutional reality, e.g., bits of paper, are objects like any others, but the imposition of status-functions on these objects creates a level of description of the object where it is an institutional object, e.g., a twenty dollar bill. The object is no different; rather, a new status with an accompanying function has been assigned to an old object (or a new object has been created solely for the purpose of serving the new status-function), but that function is manifested only in actual transactions; hence, our interest is not in the object but in the processes and events where the functions are manifested.

The priority of process over product also explains why, as several social theorists have pointed out, institutions are not worn out by continued use, but each use of the institution is in a sense a renewal of that institution. Cars and shirts wear out as we use them but constant use renews and strengthens institutions such as marriage, property, and universities. The account I have given explains this fact: since the function is imposed on a phenomenon that does not perform that function solely in virtue of its physical construction, but in terms of the continued collective intentionality of the users, each use of the institution is a renewed expression of the commitment of the users to the institution. Individual dollar bills wear out. But the institution of paper currency is reinforced by its continual use.

The sixth and final feature we need to explain concerns the role of language in institutional reality, and to that topic I devote the next chapter.


3. Language and Social Reality

The primary aim of this chapter is to explain and justify my claim that language is essentially constitutive of institutional reality. I have made this claim in general terms but I now want to make fully explicit what I mean by it, and to present arguments for it. At the end of the chapter I will mention some other functions of language in institutional facts.

I said in the last chapter that it seems impossible to have institutional structures such as money, marriage, governments, and property without some form of language because, in some weird sense I have not yet explained, the words or other symbols are partly constitutive of the facts. But this will seem puzzling when we reflect that social facts in general do not require language. Prelinguistic animals can have all sorts of cooperative behavior, and human infants are clearly capable of interacting socially in quite complex ways without any words. Furthermore, if we are going to say that institutional reality requires language, what

-60 The Construction of Social Reality-

-78 The Construction of Social Reality-

Fourth, the facts in question persist through time independently of the duration of the urges and inclinations of the participants in the institution.

This continued existence requires a means of representation of the facts that is independent of the more primitive prelinguistic psychological states of the participants, and such representations are linguistic.


4. The General Theory of Institutional Facts

Part I: Iteration, Interaction, and Logical Structure

Generalizing the Analysis

So far I have given a preliminary account of institutional facts, using the example of money more than any other sort and emphasizing the special role of language in institutional reality. I will use the tools we have assembled to give an account that describes the structure not only of money but also of marriage, property, hiring, firing, war, revolutions, cocktail parties, governments, meetings, unions, parliaments, corporations, laws, restaurants, vacations, lawyers, professors, doctors, medieval knights, and taxes, for example. I do not know how to tell the story for each of these with the simplicity of the story about money. To general-

-80 The Construction of Social Reality-


5. The General Theory of Institutional Facts

Part II: Creation, Maintenance, and the Hierarchy

The Creation and Maintenance of Institutional Facts

In Chapter 4 we explored the logical structure of institutional facts. With this account of structure in hand, we now have enough material to state a general theory of the creation, maintenance, and identification of institutional facts. In the statement of the general theory I will summarize some of the material of earlier chapters in order to extend it. In this account we need to distinguish four elements: the institution, its use in the creation of facts, their continued existence, and their indication.

First, there is the institution that permits the creation of institu-

-114 The Construction of Social Reality-

-The General Theory of Institutional Facts (Part II) 121-

chical taxonomy will show the place of the social, institutional, and mental reality within a single physical reality.

However, constructing such a taxonomy is no simple task because several different and crisscrossing distinctions need to be recognized. With some hesitation, I provide a simplified version of the hierarchical relations between the different types of fact in Figure 5.1.

Our original distinction between brute and institutional facts

Figure 5.1. Hierarchical Taxonomy of (Certain Types of) Facts

* Functions are always ultimately assigned to brute phenomena, hence the line from the Assignment of Function to Brute Physical Facts.

-122 The Construction of Social Reality-


6. Background Abilities and the Explanation of Social Phenomena

Constitutive Rules and Causation

I have said that the structure of human institutions is a structure of constitutive rules. I have also said that people who are participating in the institutions are typically not conscious of these rules; often they even have false beliefs about the nature of the institution, and even the very people who created the institution may be unaware of its structure. But this combination of claims poses a serious question for us: Under these conditions, what causal role can such rules possibly play in the actual behavior of those who are participating in the institutions? If the people who are participating in the institution are not conscious of the rules and do not appear to be trying to follow them, either consciously or unconsciously, and if indeed the very people who created or participated

-128 The Construction of Social Reality-


7. Does the Real World Exist?

Part I: Attacks on Realism

So far I have tried to analyze the nature and structure of those facts that, in a sense I attempted to explain, are dependent on human agreement or acceptance. The whole analysis presupposes a distinction between facts dependent on us and those that exist independently of us, a distinction I originally characterized as one between social and institutional facts on the one hand and brute facts on the other. It is now time to defend the contrast on which the analysis rests, to defend the idea that there is a reality totally independent of us. Furthermore, throughout the book I have been presupposing that in general our statements when true correspond to facts, and it is now also time to defend this presupposition. These defenses are made more pressing by the current philosophical scene in which it is common both to deny the existence of a reality independent of human representations and to

-150 The Construction of Social Reality-


9. Truth and Correspondence

My investigation into the nature of social reality has proceeded by investigating the status of the facts in virtue of which our statements about social reality are true. As a final matter of philosophical housekeeping, in order to justify that procedure I will in this chapter defend the idea that truth is a matter of correspondence to facts. In earlier chapters I asked questions about the nature and structure of such facts as the fact that this is a five dollar bill or that I am a citizen of the United States. If skeptical arguments against the existence of facts or against the correspondence between true statements and facts were really valid, then this aspect of my enterprise would at the very least need to be recast. My conception of social reality does not logically require the correspondence theory of truth-someone could reject the correspondence theory and still accept my analysis-but the overall picture I, in fact, hold proceeds by way of external realism through the

-200 The Construction of Social Reality-

-Truth and Correspondence 221-

sister of Sam, but there are further things to be said, e.g., that Sally is female, and that Sally and Sam have the same father and mother. Many philosophical disputes are about the structure of facts, and in general these issues go far beyond disquotation. For example, the philosophical disputes about color, and other secondary qualities, are about the nature of the facts that correspond to such claims as that this object is red, and the analysis of such facts requires more than disquotation.

9. One (only one) method in philosophy is to analyze the structure of the facts that make our statements true. In earlier chapters I have attempted to do that with the structure of social and institutional facts.


There is another argument against the correspondence theory of truth that, if valid, would be disastrous for the theory. It is a technical-sounding argument originally attributed to Frege, used by Quine against modal logic, and recently revived by Donald Davidson against the correspondence theory; it has come to be called "the slingshot argument" (presumably because such a little David of an argument can be used to slay such huge Goliaths as modal logic and the correspondence theory). It is usually stated with breathtaking speed,14 but if we are going to explore its weaknesses we will need to slow down and go through it in low gear.

The point of the argument is to show that if a true statement corresponds to a fact, it corresponds to any and every fact; hence, the notion of correspondence is completely empty. If statements correspond, then all true statements correspond to the same thing. The argument can be stated in the following steps. (I have put my own comments on the steps in parentheses.)

Step 1. Assumption: The statement that snow is white corresponds to the fact that snow is white.

-222 The Construction of Social Reality-



Chapter 1. The Building Blocks of Social Reality

1. J. R. Searle, "What Is a Speech Act," in Black, Max ed. Philosophy in America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, London: Allen N. Unwin, 1965); and J. R. Searle, Speech Acts, An essay in the Philosophy of Language, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969) The notion of "brute fact" in this sense is due to G.E.M. Anscombe, "On Brute Facts," Analysis 18, no. 3 (1958).

2. For an argument for the last two claims, i.e., that the notion of deep unconscious rule following is incoherent and that computation is observer-relative, see John R. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge, Mass., London: MIT Press, 1992), chaps. 7 and 9, respectively.

3. L. Wright, "Functions" in The Philosophical Review 82, no. 2 (April 1973), 137-68. See also P. Achinstein, "Functional Explanation" in The Nature of Explanation (New York: Oxford University Press 1983), pp. 263-90.

-230 Endnotes-

4. The use of these terms to describe the distinction was originally suggested to me by Jennifer Hudin.

5. For an explanation of the sort of imposition of intentionality involved in meaning, see Searle, Intentionality, An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind, especially chap. 6.

6. I discuss some of these in John R. Searle, "Collective Intentions and Actions," in Intentions in Communication, P. Cohen, J. Morgan, and M. E. Pollack, eds. Cambridge, Mass.: Bradford Books, MIT Press, 1990).

7. I do not wish to suggest that my views are uncontroversial or unchallenged. There are several other powerful conceptions of collective intentionality. See especially M. Gilbert, On Social Facts (London: Routledge, 1989); M. Bratman, "Shared Cooperative Activity," Philosophical Review 101, no. 2 (1992), 327-41; and R. Tuomela and K. Miller, "We-intentions," Philosophical Studies 53 (1988), 367-89.

8. Searle, Speech Acts.

9. A related distinction was introduced by J. Rawls, "Two Concepts of Rules," Philosophical Review 64 (1955).

10. E.g., Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 19ff.

Chapter 2. Creating Institutional Facts

1. John R. Searle, Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979), chap. 1.

2. I attempt to explain the relationship between the individual component and the collective component of collective intentionality in John R. Searle, "Collective Intentions and Actions," in Intentions in Communication, P. Cohen, J. Morgan, and M. E. Pollack, eds. (Cambridge, Mass: Bradford Books, MIT Press, 1990).

3. The classic text is W. Koehler, The Mentality of Apes, 2d ed. (London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trubner, 1927).

-Endnotes 231-

More recently, E. O. Wilson writes, "Tool using occurs sporadically among the species of higher primates, mostly to a degree no greater than in other vertebrate groups. However the chimpanzee has a repertory so rich and sophisticated that the species stands qualitatively above all other animals and well up the scale toward man." Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 73.

4. Werner Kummer, Primate Societies (Chicago: Aldine, 1971), p. 118.

5. This situation, by the way, still exists with British currency. On the British twenty pound note it says, "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of twenty pounds." It is signed by the chief cashier of the Bank of England.

6. I will use the expressions "X term," "Y term," and "C term" to refer indifferently either to the actual entities that are the values of these three variables or to the verbal expressions that we substitute for the expressions "X," "Y," and "C." I realize that there is always a danger of a use-mention confusion, but I believe the context will make it clear whether I am referring to an expression or to an entity referred to by that expression. In cases where there might be a confusion, I will make the distinction explicit by using, for example, the distinction between "the X expression" and "the X element." The first of these will refer to an expression; the second will refer to an actual entity.

Chapter 3. Language and Social Reality

1. Donald M. Broom, The Biology of Behavior: Mechanisms, Functions and Applications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 196-197

Chapter 4: The General Theory of Institutional Facts Part I: Iteration, Interaction, and Logical Structure

1. For extended further discussion see John R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge

-232 Endnotes-

University Press, 1969), and John R. Searle, Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

Chapter 6. Background Abilities and the Explanation of Social Phenomena

1. N. Chomsky, Reflections on Language (New York: Pantheon, 1975).

2. J. A. Fodor, The Language of Thought (New York: Crowell, 1975).

3. For further discussion, see John R. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 1992), chap. 7.

4. John R. Searle, Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), and op. cit. supra.

5. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, chap. 7.

6. The example, I believe, is originally due to Robyn Carston, "Implicature, Explicature and Truth-Theoretic Semantics," in S. Davis, ed., Pragmatics: A Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 33-51.

7. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953), part II, sec. xi.

8. Ibid., part I, para. 201.

9. Ibid., Part I, para. 324ff and passim.

10. Daniel Dennett, The Intentional Stance (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987).

Chapter 7. Does the Real World Exist? Part I: Attacks on Realism

1. An example of a realist philosopher who rejects the correspondence theory is Peter Strawson. See his "Truth" Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume 24 (1950).

2. H. Putnam, Realism With a Human Face (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 23.

-Endnotes 233-

3. Quoted by N. Goodman, Of Mind and Other Matters (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 36.

4. H. R. Maturana, F. J. Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, The Realization of the Living (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1980).

5. Terry Winograd, "Three Responses to Situation Theory," Center for the Study of Language and Information, Report No. CSLI-87-106, 1987, and Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition (Norewood, N.J.: Ablex, 1986), chap. 5.

6. G. Levine, "Looking for the Real: Epistemology in Science and Culture," in G. Levine, ed., Realism and Representation: Essays on the Problem of Realism in Relation to Science, Literature and Culture, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), p. 13.

7. J. Derrida, Limited Inc. (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 136.

8. Putnam, Realism with a Human Face, p. 96ff. H. Putnam, The Many Faces of Realism (LaSalle, Ill: Open Court, 1987), p. 18ff.

9. N. Goodman, Of Mind and Other Matters, p. 36.

10. Putnam, Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. xi. The phrase is repeated in The Many Faces of Realism, p. 1.

11. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953), part.1, para. 464 (my translation).

12. I apologize for the brevity of this discussion. I have discussed these same issues in greater detail in chap. 2 of Intentionality. For the best argument against the sense datum theory, see J. L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962).

13. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1922).

14. Putnam, attacking realism, describes it as the view that "Truth is supposed to be radically nonepistemic." Meaning and the Moral Sciences, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978, p. 125. But realism is the claim that reality is radically nonepistemic. And if it

-234 Endnotes-

should turn out that the concept of "truth" is not radically nonepistemic, then we should simply have to get another concept that was, for we need a nonepistemic term to describe the correspondence between our statements and the radically nonepistemic real world.

Chapter 8. Does the Real World Exist?

Part II: Could There Be a Proof of External Realism?

1. I have to say "in general" because, for example, some statements are self-referential, e.g., "This sentence is in English."

2. It is related to, but not the same as, Tarski's Convention T. See Alfred Tarski, "Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprachen," Studia Philosophica (1935) 261-405; translated as "The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages" in Alfred Tarski, Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956).

3. J. L. Austin, "Truth," and P. F. Strawson, "Truth," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 34 (1950). Reprinted in Pitcher, ed., Truth (Englewood Cliffs: N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1964).

4. Strawson, in Pitcher, Truth, p. 32.

5. Ibid., p. 40, italics in the original.

6. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1922).

7. Strawson, in Pitcher, Truth, p. 38.

8. op. cit., p. 41

9. "What is a fact? A fact is a thought that is true." Gottlob Frege, "The Thought," in. P. F. Strawson, ed., Philosophical Logic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 35.

10. Strawson, in Pitcher, Truth, p. 38.

11. Such statements can no doubt be paraphrased in ways that do not mention facts, but that is beside the point. The point here is that they make sense in a way that attributing causal powers to statements does not.

12. For examples of these views, see F. P. Ramsey, "Facts and Proposi-

-Endnotes 235-

tions," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society supp. vol. 7 (1927), reprinted in Pitcher, ed., Truth; P. Horwich, Truth (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), and W.V.O. Quine, Pursuit of Truth, rev. ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992).

13. For more on this distinction, see J. R. Searle, Intentionality (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 13.

14. Here is the entire argument as stated by Davidson:

The principles are these: if a statement corresponds to the fact described by an expression of the form 'the fact that p', then it corresponds to the fact described by 'the fact that q' provided either (1) the sentences that replace 'p' and 'q' are logically equivalent, or (2) 'p' differs from 'q' only in that a singular term has been replaced by a coextensive singular term. The confirming argument is this. Let 's' abbreviate some true sentence. Then surely the statement that s corresponds to the fact that s. But we may substitute for the second 's' the logically equivalent '(the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and s) is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes)'. Applying the principle that we may substitute coextensive singular terms, we can substitute 't' for 's' in the last quoted sentence, provided 'f' is true. Finally, reversing the first step we conclude that the statement that s corresponds to the fact that t, where 's' and 'f' are any true sentences.

Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 42.

15. There are a number of criticisms of the slingshot argument. I believe the one closest in spirit to mine is in J. Barwise and J. Perry, Situations and Attitudes (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983).


Name Index

Achinstein, P., 229n3

Anscombe, G. E. M., 229nl

Aristotle, 210

Austin, J. L., 204-206, 232n4, 233nl2, 234n

Barwise, J., 235nl5

Berkeley, G.,168, 169, 181,189

Bratman, M., 230n7

Bourdieu, P., 132

Broom, D., 231nl

Carston, R., 232n6

Chomsky, N., 128, 223nl

Darwin, C. 16

Davidson, D., 221, 235nl4

Dennett, D., 146, 232nl0

Derrida, J., 157,159-160, 233n7

Dummett, M., 157

Feyerabend, P., 157

Flores, F., 233n5

Fodor, J., 128, 232n2

Frege, G., 205, 221, 234n9

Freud, S., 128

Giddens, A., 230nl0

Gilbert, M., 230n7

Goodman, N., 157, 162-166, 233n3, 233n9

Hudin, J., 230n4

Hume, D., 132

-238 Name Index-

Kant, I., 3, 154, 168, 177, 183

Koehler, VV., 230n3

Kuhn, T., 157

Kummer, W., 40, 231n4

Lesniewski, S., 162

Levine, G., 159, 233n6

Maturana, H., 157-159, 233n4

Mill, J. S., 169

Miller, K., 230n7

Millikan, R. G., 17-18

Moore, G. E., 177, 180-182, 181n, 184-185

Nietzsche, F., 132

Perry, J., 235nl5

Pitcher, G., 234n4

Plato, 175

Putnam, H., 154, 161, 163-165

Quine, W. V. O., 221

Rawls, J., 230n9

Rorty, R., 157

Russell, B., 205

Searle, J. R., 7n, 19, 229nl, 229n2, 230n5, 230n6, 230n8, 230nl, 230n2, 232n3, 232n4, 232n5, 235nl3

Strawson, P., 200-209, 214, 232nl, 234n3, 234n7, 234n9

Tarski, A., 234n2

Tuomela, R., 230n7

Varela, F. J., 157, 233n4

Wheeler, J. R., 157-158

Wilson, E. O., 231n3

Winograd, T., 157, 159, 233n5

Wittgenstein, L., 134,140,175,196, 205, 232n7, 232n8, 232n9, 233nll, 233nl3, 234n6

Wright, L., 16, 18, 229n3


Subject Index


and background, 137,141-147

and enabling, 130

and rules, 127-145

codification, 53, 87-90

conceptual relativity, 151,160-167

conventional power, 100

and enablement-requirement distinction, 104

and logical structure of, 104-110

and procedural-terminal distinction, 105

declarations, 34, 55

Ding an Sich argument, 173-175

External realism, 149-176

as background presupposition, 182

-240 Subject Index-




External realism (cont.) and normal understanding, 184-185

and space of possibilities, 182-183

Transcendental argument for, 183-189

facts, 199-226

and language, Chapter 3, 59-78

brute, 2, 27, 34-35, 55-56, 121, 229nl

institutional, 2, 27, 31-57, 79-112, 113-126

intrinsic, 12

language-dependent, 61-63

language-independent, 61-63

linguistic component of, 37

non institutional, 2

objective, 8

observer-relative, 12

social, 26

taxonomy of, 121 feature

epistemically objective, 10

and functions, 14

intrinsic, 9-13

observer-relative, 9-13

ontologically subjective, 10, 13

and status-functions, 97-98 function, 13-43

agentive/nonagentive, 20-23

and causes, 16-18

collective imposition of,

and form of assignment, 46

imposition of, 13-23

and iteration, 31-57

manifest and latent, 22, 123

and meaning, 21

as observer-relative, 14-18

and speech acts, 81-82, 85

status, 40-43, 47, 94-99

intensionality, 18, 20-29

and function attributions, 18

intentionality, 6-7

collective, 23-26, 37-39, 46

singular/collective distinction, 24-26

unconscious, 7

institutional facts, 27

and the background of capacities, 125-126

as class of social facts, 38

creation of, 115

and language, 76-78

and logical structure, 90


and social reality, 59-78

maintenance of, 117-119

Moore's proof, 180-182

objective, 7-8

epistemic sense of, 8, 10

facts, 8

judgments, 8

objective-subjective distinction, 8

Ontological sense of, 8

objectivity, 8

epistemic, 8-12

Ontological, 8-12

Subject Index 241

performatives, 34

and institutional facts, 54-55

realism, 149-176, 177-197

and the convergence argu-

ment, 179-180

external, 150, 154,178

internal, 174

and logical independence of representation, 156

as an Ontological theory, 155


brute and socially constructed

distinction, 190-191

institutional reality and games, 66-67

reasons, 69

representation, 150-151


and background, 142-147

constitutive, 43-48, 190-191

and convention, 49

regulative, 50

regulative/constitutive distinction, 27-29

self-referentiality, 32-34, 52-53

and type/token, 53

slingshot argument, 221-226, 235nl4

status, 44, 46

honorific, 96 status functions, 40-43, 47, 124

and deontic power, 100-101

and honor, 101-102

and human rights, 93

and power, 95-112

and procedural stages, 102

symbolic, 99

status indicators, 85,119-120

epistemic sense of, 8

judgments, 8-9

Ontological sense of, 8

subjective, 8


epistemic, 8

Ontological, 8-12


language-dependent, 60-66

language-independent, 61-63

truth, 100, 199-226

correspondence theory of, 200-209, 212-215

and disquotation, 201-203, 208-215

redundancy theory of, 209

type-token distinction, 32-33

and codification, 53, 74

verificationist arguments, 167-173

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