Searle and Foucault on Truth


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What makes behavior rational or irrational? What's the logical structure of the process of reasoning that results in a rational decision? And what kind of structure can do that? That's a hard question. And I think most of the accounts we have of that in decision theory and so on are really inadequate.

Reason: So you started out with language, then mind, then society, the whole set of bigger questions. Is there a relationship between language, mind, and society, and so forth that's inextricable? Searle: If your theory isn't coherent, it's not a good theory. Now here's the overall picture: The world consists of entities that we find it convenient to call particles. That's it—there are just particles in fields of force, and everything else is consequences, or organizations, or effects of those particles.

Some of those particles are organized into systems, some of those systems are made largely of carbon-based atoms, and some of those carbon-based systems, especially the ones with lots of hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, evolved into organic systems. And some of those organic systems now are alive, and those evolved by process of selection over long periods of time into living organisms. Some of those living organisms have got neurons, and some of those neuron-based systems have got consciousness and intentionality. That's where I come in. I've got nothing to say about that other stuff.

All the other stuff, from the quantum mechanical level right up through evolutionary biology, I just get out of undergraduate textbooks. I come in when we get to systems that have consciousness and intentionality. Then it seems to me you've got a lot of fascinating questions, and that's what I'm interested in. How do consciousness and intentionality work in the brain?


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How is it they function logically—what are the logical structures of these phenomena? How does one organism relate to the consciousness and intentionality of other organisms? How do you get the structure of language?

John Searle

How does language give you the basis for the rest of society? Now that, I think, is a continuation of the Enlightenment project. We want a unified account of our knowledge, and I think we can get it. Reason: While the approach is different, the intention isn't that different from something like E. Wilson's Consilience , trying to unify all knowledge into a single structure. Searle: Right. I don't agree with the details, but he's certainly somebody whom I would think of as sharing my overall objectives. Reason: So would you say that the same unity would be true of facts and values?

Or are you more of a Humean? Searle: What I'm doing now in my book on rationality is to try to show how we shouldn't be thinking in terms of ethics vs. We ought to think of what we call ethics as a branch of practical reasoning—how the conscious, intentional organism reasons about what to do, particularly if the organism's got a language. If you think of it that way, then the traditional debates between ethics and science seem kind of irrelevant. I'm not attacking the traditional philosophical problem head-on, because I think that gets us nowhere.

I'm trying to show that there's a different way of looking at these issues, about the relation of the individual and culture, about the relation of biology and culture, the relation between the mind and the body. And if you look at it from this different point of view, then it seems to me you get different and more truthful results. Now this carries over to political philosophy. It seems to me that we don't have what I would call a political philosophy from the middle distance.

Let me give you an example. It seems to me the leading sociopolitical event of the 20th century was the failure of socialism. Now that's an amazing phenomenon if you think about it, because in the middle years of this century, clever people thought there was no way capitalism could survive. When I was an undergraduate at Oxford in the s, the conventional wisdom was that capitalism, because it is so inefficient and so stupid, because there's not a controlling intelligence behind it, cannot in the long run compete with an intelligently planned economy.


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  5. It's hard today to recover how widely that view was held among serious intellectuals. Very intelligent people thought that in the long run capitalism was doomed, and some kind of socialism was our future. Some people thought it was Marxist socialism, and other people thought we were going to have democratic socialism, but somehow or another it had to be socialism. Where is it today? It's dead. Even the European socialist parties, though they still keep the names, are adopting various versions of capitalist welfare states.

    I would like an intelligent analysis of this, and I can't find it. Searle: Why it failed. Why did that belief die so spectacularly? I'm not convinced that we even have the apparatus necessary to pose an answer to the question. I think we need a conceptual improvement, and it would be piecemeal.

    It would be like the additions that Max Weber made when he introduced notions like rationalization, charisma, and all the rest of it. Reason: Along these lines, you wrote an article for a German paper in which you said that Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was the "book of the century. Searle: Like every other undergraduate of my generation, when Hayek's book came out, I found it was treated as an object of ridicule.

    I remember a professor of economics saying, "Hayek is the last of the Mohicans of the classical economists. He's the last one left, holding this absurd view that's long since been refuted. As a result, I never read the book when I was a student, but many, many years later, I sat down and read it, and it seems to me a remarkable book to have written in It's a kind of a prophetic book. If we're going to talk about the failure of socialism, an awful lot of the failures had to do with exactly what Hayek predicted. It would be interesting for somebody to analyze in a more scholarly vein to what extent he was right: that there wasn't any halfway point of democratic socialism, that it would naturally collapse into various forms of oppression, that however well-intentioned the setting up of the socialist bureaucracy was, it would be bound to have calamitous effects.

    So I was asked by this very prestigious German magazine—it's a weekly newspaper really, Die Zeit —what was the book of the century. Of course, there are a lot of books that I admire, but many were already taken by others, and I couldn't pick Joyce's Ulysses , for instance. So I fastened onto Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and wrote an article [about] why I thought that was, if not the book of the century, certainly among the books of the century. Searle: I got a fair number of letters, all sympathetic.

    And a lot of my fellow professors who read German were impressed by it and agreed with me that Hayek had seen the limitations of socialism. Searle: Yeah. I think he's becoming more respectable. There are books out about him. Now I don't know the details of his work well enough to make an intelligent appraisal of it.

    I think he overstates some of his cases. He says, for example—not in The Road to Serfdom but somewhere else—"If there's one message that I would like to leave, it is that there's really no such thing as social justice. You might do an injustice to me, or I might get an unjust decision out of the courts, but the idea that there's such a thing as justice at the level of society—he rejects that. And I'm not sure he's right to reject that. I'd like to think that through more, because I sense that the idea that there are socially just and socially unjust forms of social organizations would follow from my account of social reality—that you can create unjust social institutions.

    If you get massive inequities that become ossified, I would have doubts about it. But Hayek's point was that the inequities of a free market distribution system are not by themselves unjust. And I would agree with that up to a point. One good thing about Hayek is he explodes this sort of glib talk that people have about social justice and social injustice. If you're going to talk about a gain in social justice, you'd better know exactly what you mean. Reason: At least some aspects of your recent work, such as your book on the construction of social reality, resonate with certain themes in Hayek's work.

    Is there any influence there? Searle: There wasn't, no. Because everybody spoke so badly of him, I never took Hayek seriously until after he was dead. I'm embarrassed to say that.

    Searle and Foucault on Truth | Cokesbury

    When I wrote Mind, Brains, and Science , he wrote me a very gracious letter and sent me a book. I thought it was real nice, and I wrote him back and I was surprised to get his book on perception. Searle: The Sensory Order. It's quite interesting.

    Eminent philosopher John R. Searle defends free speech, free inquiry, and the Enlightenment.

    But that came out of the blue—I mean, I was not a Hayek fan. I didn't know anything about Hayek. Searle: Here's the irony: I'm an admirer of his. I'm sure I admire him far more than he ever admired me, but he read more of me than I did of him. Reason: To get back to our earlier discussion, a lot of the radical ideas we talked about started gestating in the s, as did a change in the role of politics in the university.

    Reason: I wonder if you could say a little bit about your role in it, and any reflections you might have. Searle: In , when I came back to the United States from Oxford, where I had been teaching, I wanted to be more active in the life of the community than I could be as an expatriate. I've always been active in civil liberties issues—I believe in human rights and especially the right to free speech and free expression. I was asked to comment on the movie, and just a couple of hours before I was to address these law school students, they got a call from the chancellor's office saying my speech was canceled.

    I, an assistant professor in this university, was not to be allowed to address the students on this sensitive issue unless they got someone to rebut me. This was in December of , and at that point I decided this university was not deeply committed to free speech. So a couple of years later, when some students came to me and said, "We are campaigning on behalf of free speech," they found a sympathetic listener. I became extremely active on behalf of the FSM. My disenchantment with student radicalism came not because of the FSM but because of the events that occurred afterwards.

    After the FSM abolished itself, there was this sense of expectation of the '60s [activists] that somehow they were going to revolutionize society and overthrow capitalism and do all kinds of things that I did not want. I wanted free speech. But I discovered that there were a lot of people who, when they got free speech, wanted a whole lot of other things that had nothing to do with free speech.

    Truth to tell, some of them didn't much care about free speech. They only wanted free speech for views that they agreed with. So I was then placed in an awkward position: I thought that the forces that had become unleashed by the '60s were really threatening to the university.

    We wiped out the old chancellor and the old system of authority—totally destroyed it. So the new chancellor asked me if I would come in and work in his administration as his adviser on student affairs, and I did for two years. And that was much harder than the FSM, because that's when we had to put the revolution back in the bottle.

    You cannot run a major university on the principle of permanent revolution. The result of that was that I lost a lot of my old friends. They wanted to keep the revolution going. I did not. I thought, one revolution is enough. But not everybody agreed with me, and there were a lot of tense times as a result of that. We did, however, succeed. In '69 there was an off-campus event—the People's Park debacle—that really was not an on-campus student event. That was a battle primarily between the nonstudent element living on the south side and the university, and especially those state authorities when Reagan came in with the National Guard.

    Michel Foucault

    But the battle for academic control of Berkeley had been won by ' So what happened in Paris and Columbia and Harvard and Stanford and a whole lot of other places occurred after what had happened there. Searle: I left my crystal ball in my other pajamas. Laughter I don't know which way it's going to go. I have a sense that the present generation of undergraduates just thinks all those old '60s ideas are ridiculous. I think that the movement of the '60s has done a lot of long-term, permanent damage, in certain departments, because they gave up on their educational mission.

    Certain departments, especially in literature and cultural studies, are, as far as I can tell, permanently demoralized. But in the departments that I deal with most directly there has been almost no effect. The philosophy department today is pretty much the same kind of philosophy department we had here 30 years ago. Searle: My students are as good as ever, and maybe better than ever. My perspective is skewed by the fact that I happen to get really superior students.

    I teach very difficult upper division courses, and I get the most self-selected bunch of students in the university, because nobody takes the courses who isn't highly motivated. You come to my lectures, and you'd be amazed at the quality of the questions asked. But I don't teach many large freshman courses. When I did a few years ago I found I couldn't teach at the level that I could when I started teaching here in And the reason was that I could not take for granted the cultural references.

    I couldn't assume that everybody knew who Plato was. In the freshmen hadn't read Plato, but they had heard of him. But by, say, , you couldn't assume that. Also, affirmative action had a disastrous effect. We created two universities during affirmative action. We had a super-elite university of people who were admitted on the most competitive criteria in the history of the university, but then we had this other university of people who could not have been admitted on those criteria, and who had to have special courses and special departments set up for them.

    Now affirmative action meant two completely different things. When it first started out the definition was that we were going to take affirmative actions to see that people who would never have tried to get into the university before would be encouraged and trained so that they could get admission. I was all for that—that we were going to get people into the competition who would otherwise not have been in the competition.

    What happened though, and this was the catastrophic effect, is that race and ethnicity became criteria not for encouraging people to enter the competition, but for judging the competition. But now a lot of that is changing. The idea that we're going to admit people just on racial and ethnic criteria, we've given up on that. Now we're trying to get people prepared to compete in the university, and that's a good thing if we can do it.

    Eric Boehm 9. Billy Binion 9. Noah Shepardson 9. Matt Welch 9. Christian Britschgi 9. Nevertheless, Searle holds that it is the world that makes our claims about it true or false. For instance, if one has the belief that one's keys are on the table, it is the fact that said keys are on said table that makes that belief true.

    What Searle seems to be seeking is a way to make the correspondence theory -- which compares words and things -- and the disquotational theory -- which is solely intralinguistic -- converge. However, this convergence requires the world to play its role in confirming or disconfirming our claims about it. Prado's discussion of Searle is fairly critical. In particular, he takes up Searle's discussion of the background capacities and social conventions necessary to have certain beliefs, arguing that these are hard to square with Searle's relational conception of truth, since what they are about is not something out there in the world that could confirm or disconfirm beliefs about them.

    In turning to Foucault's discussions of truth, Prado notes that there is no single thread that ties those discussions together. Instead, Foucault appeals to five different uses of truth. The constructivist use holds that truth is a product of power relationships. The criterial use is that truth is relative to particular discourses.

    The perspectivist use is that there is no grand, overarching story that can be told to tie together particular viewpoints; instead, "there are only interpretations. It holds that truth can be a matter of the experiences one has, particularly those experiences that contradict or subvert the truths produced by the power relationships in a given social arrangement.

    Finally, and seemingly in tension with at least the constructivist and criterial uses of truth, the tacit-realist use of truth is committed to the idea that there is a reality that has something to do with what we believe. Prado argues that the dispersion of these uses of truth do not, by themselves, present a problem for Foucault. He offers the analogy with the idea of the good, arguing that goodness can be predicated of disparate things without thereby losing its character as good.

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    What Foucault must face, however, are two problems. First, there is the internal problem of how to reconcile his tacit-realist use of truth with his constructivist and criterial uses. Second, inasmuch as he privileges the latter, one wonders how he can account for what seem like simple cases of truth, like the belief that one's keys are on the table.

    The issue between Searle's and Foucault's view of truth, Prado argues, centers on confirmation. Searle believes that it is the world that confirms or disconfirms our beliefs -- that the world makes true or false. The belief that one's keys are on the table is confirmed or disconfirmed by the whereabouts of the keys. Foucault believes that confirmation and disconfirmation are discursive, that only a belief can justify another belief. Prado argues forcefully that Searle's view remains beset by the problems traditionally attaching to the correspondence theory of truth, but uses most of his energy to discuss Foucault's view.

    In particular, if Foucault holds a discursive view of truth, this raises the question of the status of his own genealogies. Are we to take them as true, in which case are they exempt from the constructivism he accords to other discourses? Or are they merely fictions, in which case why should we believe them?

    Here Prado argues, weakly in my view, that Foucault's genealogies stand as challenges to dominant views of what is true and false, rather than as true in their own right. This claim, even if correct, would commit Foucault to the truth or falsity of whether power relations are indeed stifling. There must be a fact of the matter about that. And part of the burden of his genealogies is precisely to show the stifling character of the evolution of particular practices.

    As I will argue momentarily, the problem in Prado's analysis, here and elsewhere, lies in his confusing issues of truth with those of justification. In the final chapter of the book, Prado argues that the epistemic divide between Searle and Foucault must be conceived in a particular way. Although it is often thought that Searle's relational conception of truth is predicated on a realism about the world, while Foucault's discursive conception is predicated on a denial of the world or an irrealism, only the first view is correct.

    Searle does indeed found his view of truth on a realism that confirms or disconfirms our beliefs. Foucault, however, is no irrealist. Prado relies here on Rorty to give a more plausible interpretation of Foucault. Rather than denying realism, Foucault denies that reality plays an epistemic role, in particular that it justifies our beliefs. There is, as Rorty would have it, a brute reality. That reality, while crucial to our experience, is irrelevant to the justification of truth, which can only occur discursively.

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    So, while Searle and Foucault diverge in their conception of truth, they are both realists. What divides them is that for Searle realism is tied to truth, while for Foucault they are distinct issues. Prado's project here strikes me as less successful than his last endeavor articulating Foucault in terms of Anglo-American philosophy. While I need to trust his specific take on Searle, which jibes with what I know of Searle's philosophy, and while I concur with his view of Foucault as a realist in Rorty's non-epistemic sense of realism, I think the discussion of Foucault on truth is lacking.

    Searle and Foucault on Truth Searle and Foucault on Truth
    Searle and Foucault on Truth Searle and Foucault on Truth
    Searle and Foucault on Truth Searle and Foucault on Truth
    Searle and Foucault on Truth Searle and Foucault on Truth
    Searle and Foucault on Truth Searle and Foucault on Truth
    Searle and Foucault on Truth Searle and Foucault on Truth
    Searle and Foucault on Truth Searle and Foucault on Truth

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