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The Construction of Social Reality Paperback – 26 Sep 1996

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (26 Sept. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140235906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140235906
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

John Searle is the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in 2002 and the National Humanities Medal in 2004.


Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
One of the most trying issues when giving a conference paper, teaching or just in general chit-chat arises when the notion of an `external reality', which exists independent of my own thought processes, is brought up. Increasingly Postmodernism and Post-structuralism have taken hold within the academic community, to the point that whenever an assertion is made it is immediately being deconstructed by Derridians in Hyper drive seeking to assert their will to power.

If this sounds like a familiar picture, then you need to get this book. Searle develops a consistent and insightful argument based around the questions of how ontologically objective 'brute facts' in the external would relate to both the social and institutional world- whether that is in the form of baseball, money, the presidency or war. He does so by falling back on the conception of the 'Background' and its relation to intentionality, which he explains with rare clarity and depth. Thus the book works as a basic introduction to social constructivism in the social sciences, but in a manner that is detached from the various disciplines and in the form of well considered and deeply analytical philosophy. As such this book is suitable for any aspiring constructivist and for those who require bedrock for deep analytical arguments.

It should however be stipulated that Searle does not take to Postmodernism and Post-structuralism kindly, and if there is one failure in the book it is that he does tend to straw man Derrida, but given the history of their antagonistic debate this should not be a surprise. Enjoy the read, it is worth it.
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Format: Paperback
Searle has produced a rigorous demonstration that social reality is both objective AND dependent on individual subjectivity. He has thus cut through the abstract opposition between subjective and objective.

This book shows that the social world that humans create depends on individual subjectivity but that, in turn, that subjectivity is coniditioned by the objective social reality in which individuals find themselves. Allthough Searle shows no awareness of the work of Marx this is a detailed confirmation of Marx's view (in the German Ideology) that men make their own history but that they do so in a way that is conditioned by the reality created by previous generations.

It's an important book. Searle's latest on book Philosophy in a New Century clarifies and develops the ideas of this work. If you are interested in the ontology of social reality then this book, and Searle's subsequent contributions, are a must.
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John Searle is famous for his creation of the Chinese Room argument. I read about this argument in books by Hofstadter and Dennet, and from their demolition of the argument, I assumed that Searle must be a woolly-thinking dualist. (The Chinese Room argument describes a man in a room who answers questions put to him in Chinese by matching the symbols and using rules to output other symbols. The man does not even know that the symbols represent Chinese, and Searle says that the man does not understand Chinese. Dennet agrees that the man does not, but the room and its contents as a whole do understand Chinese.)

I was wrong. Searle, is a very coherent philosopher, whose ideas make sense to a scientist/engineer like me. This book spends a chapter each, defending external reality, and the correspondence principle (the truth of a statement depends on how well it corresponds to reality). The fact that Searle has to write these chapters is an indication of how disconnected philosophers can be from reality, but the fact that he does, puts him on the side of the good guys.

The main thrust of the book is to define a new sort of reality -- not the reality understood by physics, but one that is socially created though none the less real. Searle's main example is money. It does not involve skyhooks in the Dennet sense of extra-physical mumbo jumbo, but money cannot be reduced to physical reality either -- it only has value because society collectively deems that it should.

In this book, Searle describes and helps to define a very significant third way, between the reductionism of a physical-only approach to reality, and the anti-scientific skyhooks of religious fundamentalism and social science. I wish he'd taken God as an example to put alongside money and baseball, but I guess he'd have alienated pretty much all of his readers by doing so.
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Reality is composed of brute facts and things that we believe to be true. Examples of brute facts can be things like the Himalayas – things that exist outside our head. Things we believe to be true are things like money or institutions like the Bank of England. If people vanished tomorrow, then the Himalayas would still exist. Not so money or the Bank of England. Does that mean that money and banks are ‘social constructs’ and hence unreal?

No, says Searle. Social reality is real. Money and banks are real because people think they are but this is not to say that these things are real on account of some collective mental conjuring trick. They have hooks in brutal physical facts. Hence money is a social concept of exchange but we ascribe this significance to physical things, like pound notes and dollar bills (even when we transact online, we are thinking that what we transact are not electronic impulses but physical money, represented in electronic form). What is a dollar bill? Is it just a piece of paper? Yes, it is a piece of paper but it is not ‘just’ a piece of paper. It represents a bill of exchange and I can buy things with it. But this is real because we confer by collective agreement that certain pieces of paper are money and other pieces of paper are just that – paper. When we say that something (a pledge, money etc.) is not worth the paper it is written on, then we have withdrawn this all important consent. That is what happened to money in Germany in during the country’s hyperinflation. It just became piles of worthless paper.

Similar observations could be made in relation to institutions, like the police. We accept that some people have certain powers on the basis of agreed definitions of the content of that power and when it is legitimate to hold it.
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