sexta-feira, 27 de abril de 2012

John Searle's Interview to Reason.com / Entrevista de John Searle para a Reason.com


Reason: One version of "postmodernism" which you discuss is "relativism." There are many varieties of relativism, and it's pretty clear from your book that you take the arguments for these views to be pretty bad.

Searle: I think they're terrible.

Reason: How did you characterize these arguments, and what do you think is wrong with them?

Searle: There are a number of arguments. The one that most affects people today is what I call "perspectivalism." That's the idea that we never have unmediated access to reality, that it's always mediated by our perspectives. We have a certain perspective on the world, we have a certain position in society that we occupy, we have a certain set of interests that we articulate, and it's only in relation to these perspectives that we can have knowledge of reality. So the argument goes, because all knowledge is perspectival there is no such thing as objective knowledge--you can't really know things about the real world or about things as they are in themselves.

Now that's just a bad argument. I grant you the tautology: All knowledge is our knowledge. All knowledge is possessed by human beings who operate in a certain context and from a certain perspective. Those seem to me to be trivial truths. But the conclusion that therefore you can never have objectively valid knowledge of how things really are just doesn't follow. It's a bad argument. And that's typical of a whole lot of these arguments.

Reason: You've debated Richard Rorty and Jacques Derrida. Are they making bad arguments, or are they just being misread?


Searle: With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure. Every time you say, "He says so and so," he always says, "You misunderstood me." But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that's not so easy. I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking French. And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?" And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.' That's the terrorism part." And I like that. So I wrote an article about Derrida. I asked Michel if it was OK if I quoted that passage, and he said yes.

Foucault was often lumped with Derrida. That's very unfair to Foucault. He was a different caliber of thinker altogether.

I think I sort of understand Richard Rorty's view, because I've talked to him more, and he's perfectly clearheaded in conversation. What Rorty would say is that he doesn't really deny that there's an external world. He thinks nobody denies that. What Rorty says is that we never really have objective knowledge of that reality. We ought to adopt a more pragmatic approach and think of what we call "truth" as what's useful to believe. So we shouldn't think of ourselves as answerable to an independently existing reality, though he wouldn't deny that there is such a thing.

The problem that all these guys have is that once you give me that first premise--that there is a reality that exists totally independently of us--then the other steps follow naturally. Step 1, external realism: You've got a real world that exists independently of human beings. And step 2: Words in the language can be used to refer to objects and states of affairs in that external reality. And then step 3: If 1 and 2 are right, then some organization of those words can state objective truth about that reality. Step 4 is we can have knowledge, objective knowledge, of that truth. At some point they have to resist that derivation, because then you've got this objectivity of knowledge and truth on which the Enlightenment vision rests, and that's what they want to reject.

Reason: You are continuing your own Enlightenment program to try to solve what you think are the unsolved problems of that tradition. Could you describe how you ended up involved in this project?

Searle: My primary interest is not in fighting this lunatic fringe. The main thrust of my philosophical work is constructive.

I started off with language: How does language relate to reality? People can say, "You've said something true or false, or relevant, or irrelevant, or intelligent or stupid"--and that's a remarkable fact. In the style of philosophy, we ought to be astounded by what any sane person takes for granted, namely that by flapping this hole in my face and making noises I can give a lecture, or advance a thesis, or convince people, or all the other things you can do with language.

So I wrote my first book about that. I said speaking a language is performing certain kinds of speech acts according to rules, and I laid out the rules by which we make statements, ask questions, give orders, explanations, commands, promises, threats, vows, pledges, and all the rest of it.

My first two books were about that: speech acts. During the writing of those books, I talked about beliefs and desires and intentional actions, and that's like borrowing money from a bank: If you're going to use those notes, you've got to pay that back. You've got to at some point sit down and explain what the hell is a belief, what is an intention, what is a desire.

So I wrote another book, and this was the hardest book I ever wrote, Intentionality. It took me almost 10 years to write that book. I put all that together: What are the foundations of language in the operation of the mind? Because the meaningfulness of language is an extension of the more biologically fundamental characteristics of the mind. "Intentionality" doesn't just mean intending, but it means any way that the mind has of referring to objects and states of affairs in the world. So not just intending is intentionality but believing, desiring, hoping, fearing--all of those are intentional in this philosopher's sense.

Part of the fun of this profession is that if you solve one problem, it gives you three others. One of the problems it opened up was, How does the mind fit into the real world? How is the mind part of reality? That's the traditional mind/body problem.

So I wrote a couple of books about that, and in the course of that work I discovered that there was this new science that I would become a part of, "cognitive science." That was great, because cognitive science was overcoming "behaviorism," which had been the orthodoxy in psychology.

Reason: What do you mean by behaviorism?

Searle: Behaviorism was the idea that when you do a scientific study of the mind, you don't actually try to get inside the brain and figure out what's going on, you just study overt behavior.

Reason: Inputs and outputs?



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