Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here

Full Access Making Social Worlds*

No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
Brill’s MyBook program is exclusively available on BrillOnline Books and Journals. Students and scholars affiliated with an institution that has purchased a Brill E-Book on the Brill platform automatically have access to the MyBook option for the title(s) acquired by the Library. MyBook is a cheap paperback edition of the original book and will be sold at uniform, low price.

Making Social Worlds*

Full text article:

  • XML
  • HTML
  • PDF
Add to Favorites

image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

Abstract Making the Social World is John Searle’s latest statement on social ontology. His argument is clarified and expanded, but, despite various objections, it remains largely unchanged. In this review, I want to present Searle’s new book in light of these objections, explain why he has rejected the more important among them, and ask whether his reasons for doing so are defensible. I first present arguments that Searle’s naturalism – his broader philosophical project – does not have a definite shape in the social realm. I argue that this view is largely right because Searle allows for two seemingly inconsistent approaches: historical narratives and generalized explanations. I then introduce objections from historicists, who argue that Searle’s theory is not in fact compatible with historical explanations. I explain why Searle rejects these objections, and suggest that his reasons for doing so cannot be defended against examples of conceptual incongruity. On the whole, I argue that Searle’s naturalism starts from stronger assumptions than argument allows.

1. FN0*) I want to thank Jason Blakely for valuable discussions and comments on the initial draft of this essay.
2. FN11) J.R. Searle, Minds, Brains and Science, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984); J.R. Searle, Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); J.R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).
3. FN22) J.R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1995).
4. FN33) American Journal of Economics and Sociology 62:1 (2003); Anthropological Theory 6:1 (2006); History of the Human Sciences 10:4 (1997); Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 57:2 (1997); Philosophy of the Social Sciences 28:1 (1998).
5. FN44) Searle, Construction, 23.
6. FN55) Searle, Construction, 24–5.
7. FN66) Searle, Construction, 24, 38.
8. FN77) Searle, Making the Social World, 47–8.
9. FN88) Searle, Construction, 38.
10. FN99) Searle, Construction, 38.
11. FN1010) Searle, Construction, 33.
12. FN1111) Searle, Construction, 43–4.
13. FN1212) Searle, Construction, 42.
14. FN1313) Searle, Construction, 57 (original emphasis).
15. FN1414) J.R. Searle, “Reply to Barry Smith”, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 62 (2003), 303.
16. FN1515) Searle, Construction, 117.
17. FN1616) Searle, Construction, 92.
18. FN1717) I. Hacking, “Searle, Reality and the Social”, History of the Human Sciences, 10 (1997), 90.
19. FN1818) Hacking, “Searle, Reality and the Social”, 89.
20. FN1919) L. Spillman, “Review”, Contemporary Sociology 25 (1996), 547; H. Knoblauch, “Review”, The American Journal of Sociology, 101 (1996), 1459; T. Osborne, “The Limits of Ontology”, History of the Human Sciences, 10 (1997), 98.
21. FN2020) Osborne, “The Limits of Ontology”, 98, 99.
22. FN2121) Searle, Construction, xii. For Searle’s discussion of his relation with Durkheim, see J.R. Searle, “Searle versus Durkheim and the waves of thought: Reply to Gross”, Anthropological Theory, 6 (2006), 57–69.
23. FN2222) J.R. Searle, “Replies to the Critics of the Construction of Social Reality”, History of the Human Sciences, 10 (1997), 109.
24. FN2323) J.R. Searle, “Intentionalistic Explanations in the Social Sciences” in J.R. Searle, Consciousness and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 132.
25. FN2424) Searle, Making the Social World, 200.
26. FN2525) G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991).
27. FN2626) E. Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, ed. S. Lukes (New York: The Free Press, 1982), esp. 50–59.
28. FN2727) C.G. Hempel, “The Function of General Laws in History”, The Journal of Philosophy, 39 (1942), 35–48; C. Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, trans. C. Jacobson and B. Grundfest Schoephf (New York: Anchor Books, 1967).
29. FN2828) Searle, “Intentionalistic Explanations in the Social Sciences”, 130–1, 133–4.
30. FN2929) Searle, “Reply to Gross”, 68. The book referred to is C. Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).
31. FN3030) J.R. Searle “Reality and social construction: Reply to Friedman”, Anthropological Theory, 6 (2006), 84.
32. FN3131) Searle, “Reply to Gross”, 68.
33. FN3232) Hempel, “General Laws in History.”
34. FN3333) C. Taylor, “Interpretation and the Sciences of Man”, The Review of Metaphysics, 25 (1971), 3–51.
35. FN3434) See, for example, M. Bevir, The Logic of the History of Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 243–4.
36. FN3535) T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962).
37. FN3636) R. Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980); A. MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981). Also see Bevir, Logic; Kuhn, Structure; I. Lakatos, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes” in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth and Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).
38. FN3737) Searle, Construction, 47–8.
39. FN3838) Searle, Construction, 47.
40. FN3939) Searle, Construction, 47.
41. FN4040) M. Bevir, “The Logic of the History of Ideas – Then and Now,” forthcoming in Intellectual History Review.
42. FN4141) R.A. Shweder, “John Searle on a witch hunt: A Commentary of John R. Searle’s essay ‘Social Ontology: Some basic principles’ ”, Anthropological Theory, 6 (2006), 90–1.
43. FN4242) J.R. Searle, “Reality and Relativism: Shweder on a which? hunt”, Anthropological Theory, 6 (2006), 115.
44. FN4343) Bob Jones University v. United States, 103 S. Ct. 2017 (1983).
45. FN4444) Last accessed on Sept. 16, 2010.
46. FN4545) B. Smith, “The Ontology of Social Reality”, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 62 (2003), 293.
47. FN4646) Smith, “The Ontology of Social Reality”, 293.
48. FN4747) Searle, “Reply to Barry Smith”, 307.
49. FN4848) Searle, “Reply to Barry Smith”, 307.
50. FN4949) J.R. Searle, Consciousness and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 75.
51. FN5050) Searle, Mind, 11; J.R. Searle, “Meaning, Mind, and Reality”, Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 55 (2001), 173.
52. FN5151) Searle, Construction, 6.
53. FN5252) Searle, Construction, 61.
54. FN5353) Searle, Construction, 166 (original emphasis).
55. FN5454) Searle, Construction, 162.
56. FN5555) Searle, Construction, 165.
57. FN5656) Searle, “Why Should You Believe It?”
58. FN5757) Searle, Mind, 172–4.
59. FN5858) Kuhn, Structure; T.S. Kuhn, Black-Body Theory and the quantum discontinuity, 1894–1912 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978); I. Hacking, The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas About Probability, Induction, and Statistical Inference (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975).

Article metrics loading...


Affiliations: 1: University of California Berkeley


Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to ToC alert
  • Subscribe to Citation alert
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    Journal of the Philosophy of History — Recommend this title to your library

    Thank you

    Your recommendation has been sent to your librarian.

  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation