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Anthropological Theory

Copyright © 2006 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Vol 6(1): 57–69


Searle versus Durkheim and the waves of thought

Reply to Gross

John R. Searle University of California, Berkeley, USA

John R. Searle University of California, Berkeley, USA In the many comments on The Construction of

In the many comments on The Construction of Social Reality that I have seen since its publication 10 years ago, the single most astounding claim to me is Gross’s assertion that it is essentially Durkheimian. He repeats this claim over and over. He says my work has ‘Durkheimian roots’, that it exhibits what he calls ‘unacknowledged and unreconstructed Durkheimianism’; that I am ‘a Durkheimian at heart’; that the account is ‘steeped in Durkheim’, that it re-expresses ‘what are essentially Durkheimian ideas in an analytic idiom’. And so on. I think Gross protests perhaps too much and I want to protest equally on the opposite side. Both historically and as a matter of content his claims are entirely false. In order to clarify the differences I will contrast my view of institutional facts with Durkheim’s account of ‘social facts’. While I was working on The Construction I read some of the classical works on socio- logical theory, including Durkheim’s chapter ‘Social Facts’ as well as some other sections of his book The Rules of Sociological Method (1938). It seemed immediately obvious to me that Durkheim had an inadequate conception of social facts. He fails to distinguish social facts in general from the special subclass of institutional facts, he thinks that social facts are essentially coercive, and he thinks that they exist outside of individual minds. He says that the essence of social facts is that they are ‘external to the individual and endowed with a power of coercion, by reason of which they control him’ (1938: 3). This is exactly the opposite of my view. I think we need to start by distinguishing social facts in general from institutional facts, that human institutions are in large part enabling and empowering and that the collective intentionality which creates and sustains them is entirely in individual minds. Because Durkheim’s account seemed so impoverished I did not read any further in his work. It is, by the way, a common mistake in the tradition to suppose that social facts are somehow or other essentially constraining or coercive. 1 I, on the other hand, want to argue that social institutions are in general enabling and empowering. This feature is disguised from us by the fact that once we are working inside social institutions, they can seem to be constraining. Thus, in baseball, I only have three strikes. Within the institution of money, I cannot spend money I do not have, or at least



do not have control of. This makes it seem as if baseball and money are somehow coercive and constraining, but it is important to remember that the institution itself creates possibilities that life would not have without that institution. Think of money, government, private property, cocktail parties, and universities, to take some examples at random. All of these institutions enable us to perform kinds of activities that we could not possibly perform without them. I think this mistake in Durkheim derives from other, deeper, inadequacies in his work. He never, as far as I know, seriously attempts to describe the differences between human social reality and that of other social animals. All sorts of animals have social relations and many species have social facts in Durkheim’s sense of external coercions. But the special feature of human beings is that they have institutions, and once you explore the logical structure of these institutions, their enabling and empowering features become obvious. Language is the most important case, because the institution of language gives us enormous powers not possessed by other animals, not even by other primates. And it provides the foundation for all other institutions. I believe it is at least in part because Durkheim fails to explore human social facts within the larger context of animal social facts that he fails to see the distinction between social facts and institutional facts. His analysis does not even get up to the point where he is able to pose the questions that I am posing. For example, how do human institutional facts go beyond mere ‘social facts’? What is the logical structure of institutions? How does language constitute institutional reality in a way that it does not constitute brute reality? Because Gross prompts me to distinguish my theory from Durkheim’s, it is essential to remind ourselves at the beginning that Durkheim was writing a century ago and lacked the resources of contemporary philosophy. For example, in a post-Fregean era, any philosopher will be alerted by the intensionality (with an ‘s’) of institutional state- ments. 2 For contemporary philosophers intensionality is a red flag and prompts deeper investigation. Durkheim treats all these contexts as if they were extensional and I believe that is because he lacked the resources of contemporary philosophy. In what follows I am not belittling Durkheim’s historical significance but questioning the adequacy of his account for contemporary theory.


As a matter of my biographical history, Durkheim’s work had no influence whatever on the writing of The Construction of Social Reality. However, Gross might have been right in thinking that there are some important overlaps and similarities, even with no histori- cal influence, so with that question in mind I had a closer look at Durkheim’s work. I can now report that the situation with Durkheim is much worse than I had originally thought. His conception of social ontology is not only inconsistent with mine, but is flawed in ways I did not originally realize. And the general philosophy is much worse than Gross seems aware of. Here, for example, is one typical statement:


How many well-established cases suggest that thought can travel over a distance? The difficulty which we may have in conceiving so disconcerting an idea is not sufficient

reason for us to deny its reality, and we shall in all probability have to admit the exist-

ence of waves of

(Durkheim, 1953: 19)


Searle versus Durkheim. Reply to Gross

In The Construction and subsequent works, I have made use of certain essential concepts and presuppositions in trying to understand social reality in general and institutional reality in particular. These come directly from my philosophy of language and phil- osophy of mind. I will list several of these central concepts and distinctions, and for the sake of brevity I will confine the list to a dozen.


The ontological unity of the world.


The distinction between observer-relative and observer-independent phenomena.


The distinction between the epistemic and the ontological sense of the subjective–objective distinction.


The distinction between brute facts and institutional facts.


Collective intentionality.


The assignment of function and the consequent observer relativity of functions.


The concept of status functions.


The distinction between regulative rules and constitutive rules.


Deontic powers.


The constitutive role of language in the structure of society.


Desire independent reasons for action, and their connection with free will and rationality.


The background.

How many of these do we find in Durkheim? As far as I can tell, exactly none. I used to think his idea of ‘conscience collectif’ was much like my ‘collective intentionality’, but they are completely different, as I will explain. With these concepts in mind, let us explore Durkheim’s account of social ontology. I will list what I take to be some of the major defects in his account, and again for the sake of brevity, I will confine the list to only 10. I would not wish to beg any questions against Durkheim, so those who think he is right and I am wrong can think of this list as giving us 10 major differences or points of dispute between Searle and Durkheim.

1. Durkheim does not have an adequate account of the ontological unity

of the universe

We live in exactly one world, and one of our main tasks in social ontology is to make clear how such things as nation-states and balance of payments problems are part of exactly the same world as hydrogen atoms. On my account all mental life exists entirely in neuronal structures and all social and institutional reality exists in individual minds (together, of course, with all of the material objects and other features of the context in which those minds operate). It is not easy to get a consistent and coherent account of ontology out of Durkheim’s writings. He denies over and over that mental reality exists entirely in neuronal structures and he denies that social reality exists entirely in individ- ual minds. He grants that brain cells form the ‘substratum’ of consciousness and that individual consciousnesses form the ‘substratum’ of collective representations but he thinks that in each case the phenomenon surpasses its substratum and exists in part outside the substratum. He thinks each is, as he says over and over, sui generis. At no point does he say, as I do, that all collective representations exist only in individual minds.



There are several propositions in Durkheim’s writings on ontology that are not easy to render consistent. Here are three. First, he claims that mental life and social reality ‘surpass’ their substrata; that collective representations are ‘exterior’ to individual minds in the same way that mental states are exterior to their neuronal substratum. Second, he also says that collective intentionality ‘is only realized in individuals’. And third, he thinks that the way for us to understand how collective intentions can be exterior to individuals is on the model of how we are supposed to understand that mental phenomena can be external to the brain cells which form their substratum. To give you a sense of the difficulty I will quote some representative passages from ‘Individual and Collective Representations’ and from The Division of Labor.

When we said elsewhere that social facts are in a sense independent of individuals

and exterior to individual minds, we only affirmed of the social world what we have

just established for the psychic world

that individual representations, produced by the action and reaction between neural

elements, are not inherent in these elements, there is nothing surprising in the fact that collective representations, produced by the action and reaction between individual minds that form the society, do not derive directly from the latter and consequently surpass them. The conception of the relationship which unites the social substratum and the social life is at every point analogous to that which un- deniably exists between the physiological substratum and the psychic life of indi-


the relative externality of social facts in relation to individuals, is even

If there is nothing extraordinary in the fact

more immediately apparent than is that of mental facts in relation to the cerebral cells. (Durkheim, 1993 [1893]: 24–5)

Again, in the following paragraph,

If one can say that, to a certain extent, collective representations are exterior to individual minds, it means that they do not derive from them as such but from the association of minds, which is a very different thing. No doubt in the making of the whole each contributes his part, but private sentiments do not become social except by combination under the action of the sui generis forces developed in association. (Durkheim, 1993 [1893]: 25–6, my italics)

The exteriority of mental facts in relation to the cerebral cells is due to the same causes and is of the same nature. (1993 [1893]: 26)


the cells certainly help to produce [a mental representation] but do not suffice to constitute, since it survives them and manifests different properties. (Durkheim, 1953: 24)

It is not easy to make these passages consistent with the last sentence of this passage from The Division of Labor in Society:



Searle versus Durkheim. Reply to Gross

The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society

forms a determinate system with a life of its own. It can be termed the collective or

By definition it is diffused over society as a whole, but

nonetheless possesses specific characteristics that make it a distinctive reality. In fact it is independent of the particular conditions in which individuals find themselves.

it does not change with every generation but,

on the contrary, links successive generations to one another. Thus it is something totally different from the consciousness of individuals, although it is only realized in individuals. (Durkheim 1993[1893]: 38–9, my italics)

Individuals pass on, but it abides

common consciousness

How can we reconcile his view that social ontology is ‘only realized in individuals’ with

his claim that it is ‘to a certain extent

It took me a long time to figure it out; but here, I think, is a sympathetic attempt to give a coherent interpretation: Just as chemical alloys and compounds (one of his anal- ogies) are explained by the association of the elements within them, but nonetheless go beyond a mere summation of the elements, so collective intentionality is a result of the association of individual intentionality but goes beyond it. For this reason, as he says over and over, collective intentionality is not in individual minds. In the same way that bronze is not in copper and tin individually, the collective representations of my society are not in my mind or any other individual mind. It is the association of individual minds that results in collective intentionality. Another analogy he likes is with life (remember, he is writing a half century before Crick and Watson). Life does not reside in carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen even though these are the basic components of living matter, rather their association gives rise to life, even though life is not in any of them by themselves. Individual representations are the result of the actions of neurons but they surpass the neurons. Thus there can be a science of psychology which is not neuro- science because there is a sui generis level of individual representations. Now just as the sui generis level of the mental makes possible a science of psychology, so a sui generis level of the social makes possible a science of sociology. Durkheim has various axes to grind. He wants sociology to be a genuine science like physics with its own ontological domain that it studies, but he does not want it to be reducible to, and hence a branch of, psychology. So, just as the association of neurons produces a separate level, that of consciousness, which does not reside in individual neurons, so the association of individual consciousnesses produces a level of social facts, which do not reside in individual consciousnesses. Psychology studies individual consciousnesses and sociology studies collective consciousness and its manifestation in social facts. This leads him to make apparently contradictory claims. On the one hand he says repeatedly that collective representations are not in individual minds, and on the other hand that they are realized in individual minds. Now maybe these really are contradic- tory and he changed his mind from the time he wrote The Division of Labor to the time he wrote ‘Individual and Collective Representations’, but one way of reconciling them is to say that he takes the analogies seriously. Bronze is realized in copper and tin, but neither of them contains any bronze. Analogously collective representations are realized in your mind, my mind and Sally’s mind and so on, but none of us individuals has any collective intentionality.

exterior to individual minds’?



In the end the picture is inadequate for the following reason. The relations in the chemical alloys and compounds are causal relations. Similarly the mechanisms by which the replication of DNA produces the cluster of phenomena we call ‘life’ are causal mech- anisms. In each case there is a set of causes – the behavior of the lower level phenomena – and an effect – the resultant higher level feature. But this part of the picture will not work for collective intentionality. Though there are plenty of causal relations between individual and collective intentionality, the relation of individual minds to collective intentionality is constitutive and not causal. The collective intentionality is constituted by what is in individual minds. It could not work otherwise. The explanation of human behavior requires intentional causation, but intentional causation can only work if it is internalized in individual minds. Collective intentionality can only function causally if it is constituted by what is in the minds of individuals. For Durkheim it is impossible to explain the mechanisms by which social facts ‘constrain’ individuals, because the collective representations are not in individual minds. I want to make this point absolutely clear: from my point of view the fundamental ontology in Durkheim is mistaken. He does not give a consistent or coherent account of the fundamental unity of the universe. We can make his claim that social ontology does not exist in individual minds, consistent with the claim that it is realized in indi- vidual minds, only at the cost of attributing to him a false conception of the relation- ships between the social and the individual. On my view collective intentionality has to be in individual brains, because (a) there is nowhere else for it to be and (b) that is the only place it can be if it is to function causally in shaping human behavior.

2. Durkheim does not have an adequate account of the structure of

intentionality, either individual or collective

Suppose we subtracted the mistakes in his overall ontology, and just gave his account of social facts. Would that rescue Durkheim? I do not think so. The reason is that he really does not have an account of the logical structure of these ‘collective representations’. He needs to tell us: What is the propositional content? What is the psychological mode? And what about the causal self-referentiality, the conditions of satisfaction, the direction of fit, the relation between the collective and the individual, the role of intentional causa- tion, the role of the Network and the Background, and all the rest of it? He does not allow, as far as I can tell, that the intentionality in individual heads can sometimes be in an irreducibly first person plural form. For me this is the key to under- standing collective intentionality. So my notion of collective intentionality is radically different from his notion of ‘conscience collectif’. Of course he need not use my jargon, but there has to be some way of facing up to the detailed questions of the structure of representations. Otherwise there is no systematic account of their func- tioning in the causation of human behavior. But Durkheim was not in a position to state the precise details of collective representations because he lacked the logical apparatus. (This is not his fault. He happened to live in the prehistory of the study of intentionality.) These are not trivial or minor lacunae. The main explanatory tool for understanding human behavior is intentional causation, and the main tool for understanding social behavior is the intentional causation of collective intentionality. There are nontrivial problems about how collective intentionality functions causally for individual human



Searle versus Durkheim. Reply to Gross

beings. Specifically, what exactly is the relation between the collective ‘we’ and the singular ‘I’? If I am acting as part of a collective, say by playing a part in an orchestra or by acting as a member of a political movement, I act only because of our shared collec- tive intentionality, but all the same, the collective intentionality has to be able to move my body. How do we get from We are doing this to I am doing what I am doing as part of our doing what we are doing? 3 Durkheim cannot address these issues because he has an inadequate account of intentionality and its relation to ontology in general.

3. Durkheim did not grasp the distinction between observer-relative and

observer-independent phenomena, nor the distinction between the ontological sense of the objective/subjective distinction and the epistemic sense

Understanding these two distinctions is essential for understanding society, because, though social reality is for the most part observer relative, and thus ontologically subjec- tive, that does not prevent us from having epistemically objective knowledge of it. Thus, for example, the fact that George Bush is president is observer relative, and hence onto- logically subjective. But all the same it is an epistemically objective fact that Bush is president. Durkheim exhibits no understanding of these distinctions, and in fact he repeatedly denies that social facts are observer relative and thus have a subjective ontology. He insists over and over that social facts are ‘things’. And what is a thing? He contrasts ‘things’ with ‘ideas’: he keeps emphasizing that ‘social phenomena are things and ought to be treated as things’ (Durkheim, 1938: 27) Social phenomena are ‘distinct from the consciously formed representations of them in the mind; we must study them objectively as external

.’ (1938: 28, my emphasis). He further insists on the ‘objective reality of social

facts’. He tells us that social phenomena, though immaterial, are real things, the proper objects of scientific study. Why does he say all this, when it seems obviously false? A football game or a promise or a president can only exist as such and function as such if they are thought of as such. In his urge to provide a basis for an objective science of sociology, he thinks that he has to insist that social facts are objective things as much as physical facts. He fails to see that we can have an epistemically objective science of a domain that is ontologically subjec- tive. The upshot is that Durkheim has a mistaken conception of society and social facts. They are initially created by individuals, but they do not exist entirely in individuals. Durkheim’s view is not remotely like my view and it cannot be made consistent with what we know about how the world works anyway.


4. Durkheim implicitly denies the distinction between brute facts and

institutional facts

He thinks all social facts are brute facts. This denial of the distinction between brute facts and institutional facts follows from the previous point. Once you think that social facts are ‘things’, then they are facts on all fours with any other facts studied by the natural sciences, even if they are in a different domain. I take it Gross agrees with this point so I will not belabor it, but my diagnosis would be that the failure to see the distinc- tion between brute facts and institutional facts derives from his failure to see the other



two distinctions, as well as his eagerness to insist that sociology is a science on all fours with physics or any other natural science.

5. Durkheim does not have an adequate conception of the assignment of

functions and consequently fails to see the observer-relative ontological status of functions. More importantly, he does not have the concept of status functions

Gross thinks that Durkheim and I share the view that ‘a key feature of collective repre- sentations is that they establish purposes for objects that those objects would not other- wise have’ (p. 48). But that characterization misses the distinction between status functions and other types of functions. The point is not that the object would not have the purpose without the assignment. That is true of all assignments of agentive functions, whether it is a matter of knives, rocking chairs, telephones, dollar bills, or presidents. The point is rather that there is a class of functions that can only be performed in virtue of the collective acceptance of a deontic status, and not in virtue of physical structure alone. Durkheim gives no evidence of understanding this point, and the example Gross cites from Durkheim about Australian aboriginal religion is so under-described that it fails to make the point because it is stated in terms of meaning. He says Durkheim ‘held that social institutions such as religions are composed of large numbers of beliefs and practices that involve the cultural construction of objects as having meaning of a certain sort’ (p. 49). Meaning is too ambiguous a notion to capture the idea of deontic power.

6. Durkheim does not make a distinction between regulative rules and

constitutive rules

As far as their roles in social life are concerned, there is no distinction for him. Thus he tells us, ‘A social fact is to be recognized by the power of the external coercion which it exercises or is capable of exercising over individuals’ (Durkheim, 1938: 10). But the problem with this is that it identifies regulative rules as much as constitutive rules. Indeed, it seems to apply more naturally to regulative rules. Thus, the regulative rule ‘Drive on the right-hand side of the road’ has the power of external coercion over indi- viduals as much as do the rules which are constitutive of money or governments. He repeats this idea in several places. Social facts are ‘things’, they are objective, and they have coercive power over individuals. But the difficulty is that this covers over too many distinctions.

7. Durkheim has no account of deontology

This is the most important point; Gross does not even mention it. In his caricature summary of what he takes to be my argument he makes no mention of deontic powers. On my account this is the glue that holds society together. Durkheim’s notion of ‘coercion’ disguises several important distinctions, and a general difficulty with his defi- nition of social facts is that it fails to distinguish between deontic desire-independent reasons for action and social forms of coercion. So Durkheim lumps together both feeling an obligation and being a part of crowd emotions (‘a collective emotion which bursts forth suddenly and violently in a crowd’; 1938: 9) as examples of social facts. He discusses both examples as if they were the same, but they are totally different. The way that the crowd has a ‘coercive’ effect on me is quite different from the obligation I feel



Searle versus Durkheim. Reply to Gross

when I make a promise to someone. Durkheim fails to see this point because he lacks the conceptual resources even to state the distinction. Actually, there are four different types of social motivation, four different kinds of ‘coercion’ that Durkheim runs together, but you will not understand social reality unless you see the distinctions between them. Here are examples of the four sorts of cases: (1) I buy a certain type of shirt because that type is currently fashionable. (2) I pay back the money you loaned me because I promised I would. (3) I am swept along in an emotional crowd. (4) I surren- der my wallet to an armed gang. All of these fit Durkheim’s account of social facts because they all involve ‘coercions’ that are external to the individual. But they are quite different from each other, and only (2), the obligation to keep the promise, is an example of an institutional fact. Proposition (2) describes a deontic power deriving from a status function. Any adequate theory of social ontology has to be able to state these differences. Durkheim’s cannot.

8. Durkheim fails to see the constitutive role of language in the structure

of society

Gross concedes that Durkheim had an underdeveloped theory of language but thinks that Durkheim recognizes the constitutive role because, ‘Durkheim often pointed to language as the premier example of a social fact’ (p. 49). But that is not the point. Of course everyone agrees that language is social. When I say ‘language is partly constitu- tive of social ontology’ I do not mean, as Durkheim would have accepted, that among the social facts language figures prominently. What I mean is that apparently non- linguistic institutional facts in general require linguistic or symbolic modes of represen- tation or they cannot exist. I do not find this idea, nor anything remotely like it, in Durkheim. Furthermore, it is not just enough to say, as several recent philosophers have said, that language is partly constitutive of social reality. You have to say exactly how. They do not say how, among other reasons, because they fail to perceive the iterated upward movement from X to Y in the structure by which X counts as Y. One has to answer the question, How does language play a role in the constitution of each and every other type of institutional fact? The fact that this is a cocktail party, that I am a professor, that I owe the bank some money, and that Bush is president of the United States – all of these have language as essential components. I do not get a sense of this in any other author I have read, certainly not in Durkheim, but neither in the more recent works of Bourdieu, Habermas, or Foucault. And when I say that in our philosophical tradition social and political philosophers have ‘taken language for granted’ what I mean is not that they do not discuss language but that they do not start with language. They do not see that any account of the ontology of society has to begin with the philosophy of language because language is presupposed by all social institutions. From an ontological point of view, the subject matter of sociology is in large part a branch of the philosophy of language.

9. Durkheim’s notion of ‘coercion’ prevents him from seeing the special

role of desire-independent reasons for action and the consequent presupposition of free will and rationality in the functioning of society

The social sciences are about rationality, not rationality as opposed to irrationality, but about human action within the space of reasons. Durkheim fails to acknowledge this point, and I am unaware that he had a well worked-out theory of rationality.



10. Durkheim lacks a notion of the Background

Gross concedes there is nothing like this in Durkheim so I will not expand on it except to say that all intentionality requires a Background for its functioning. Gross summarizes what he thinks are the similarities between my account and Durkheim’s as follows:

both center their accounts on the notion of representation, both recognize the exist- ence of something like collective representations, both view a key feature of such representations as being that of imposing new statuses, powers, and meanings on objects, and both accept that social institutions are composed of individual actors who act on the basis of this collective imposition of status functions. (pp. 50–1)

I think this paragraph is, at best, grossly misleading. And I have no choice but to refute it, so to speak, line by line. Durkheim does not have a well-defined notion of representation, for reasons I stated in my points 1 and 2 given earlier. The minimal conditions of adequacy on any account of representations are that all representations have to have specific intentional contents that can function by way of intentional causation and they have to be entirely in individual minds. Durkheim meets neither condition. Indeed, as I pointed out earlier, his ‘collective representations’ cannot exist in the minds of individuals. In my view, all collective intentionality exists only in the minds of individuals. And it is not enough for a theorist to use the word ‘representation’, he has to specify exactly the propositional contents and various other features of the logical structure. Furthermore, for Durkheim it is not a matter of new statuses and deontic powers. It is a matter, as he says repeatedly, of ‘coercion’. And as I said earlier, I think that is a misconception. Moreover, it is misleading to say that for him social institutions are composed entirely of individual actors, since he thinks that the collective representations are not in the minds of individual actors. And finally, in a breathtaking misstatement, Gross says that Durkheim recognizes that ‘social institutions are composed of individual actors who act on the basis of this collective imposition of status functions ’ (p. 51, my emphasis). The concepts of ‘status function’ and the ‘collective imposition of status functions’ are well- defined technical notions in my theory. The collective imposition of status functions requires constitutive rules, with their deontology and so on. Durkheim never got close to having any such notions. The proof that Durkheim has no concept of status func- tions is that he lumps together things that are, in my sense, status functions (such as certain social obligations) with things that are not (crowd enthusiasms). And, as Durkheim says repeatedly, for him the essence of social facts is that ‘they are external to the individual and endowed with a power of coercion’. Gross’s attempt to identify my views with Durkheim’s reminds me of Wittgenstein’s remark: If you wrap up different kinds of furniture – chairs, tables and so on – in enough wrapping paper, you can make them all look the same shape.


Gross makes two further criticisms of my views which I will discuss briefly. First, he says that I neglect the relationship between culture and power, specifically, I seem to be unaware that



Searle versus Durkheim. Reply to Gross

the ultimate foundation for much of social reality, if one need be identified, likely rests not on collective intentionality alone, but as well on something like the capacity of human beings to grow accustomed – if only for limited stretches of time – to domi- nation by powerful others. (pp. 52–3)

But why does he think that collective intentionality cannot derive from the fact that people have grown accustomed to something, even to ‘domination by powerful others’? Notice the implied contrast between ‘collective intentionality’ and ‘the capacity of

human beings to grow accustomed

there is no contrast. Much collective intentionality is simply inherited, and many, perhaps most, of the institutions we grow up in – families, money, private property, the stock market and summer vacations – are simply accepted uncritically. Collective intentionality need not be arrived at by a process of deliberation. And sometimes the collective intentionality benefits ‘powerful others’. Actually, I do discuss these issues but, of course, there is much more to be said. In The Construction, I mention the fact that people often accept systems of status functions that are manifestly not in their interest. There is a general problem of accounting for why people accept social institutions at all, and a special problem of accounting for why people accept social institutions that are not in their interest. The two standard accounts that I am familiar with seem to me inadequate. The first is the classical economists’ account, according to which the fact that people voluntarily accept institutions shows that they believe them to be in their interests. That is, people ‘reveal’ their real prefer- ences by their acceptance behavior. The second argument is that they are oppressed or deceived in various ways, that some sort of ‘false consciousness’ is responsible and that people really have ‘adaptive’ preferences. No doubt these analyses will work for certain special cases, but they do not capture the complexity of the phenomena. I am not at all confident that we have adequate conceptual tools for posing this question intelligently for a large number of cases – for example, the tendency of educated white middle-class American women a few decades ago to accept status roles in society which did not allow them full scope to attain their potential. It is common among feminists to say that the situation of white women was forced on them by males, but I doubt very much that this is the whole story. Many of them accepted their status in society enthusiastically. I see these as interesting areas for sociological investigation, but it is important to understand exactly what is the nature of the status functions being investigated, and that is what my work is addressed to. It is not in conflict with the analysis of particular patterns of acceptance and rejection. Rather, it is an attempt to describe exactly what is accepted and rejected. To put this point succinctly: Gross thinks that collective inten- tionality is in contrast with habitual acceptance. It is not. One (powerful) source of collective intentionality is habitual acceptance. Finally, in an argument I find puzzling, Gross takes me to task for not answering a set of questions that I am not in any sense attempting to answer. These have mostly to do with the historical character of the development of institutions. He points out correctly that narratives, metaphors, and what I have elsewhere called ‘dramatic categories’ play an essential role in social ontology. I entirely agree with this point, but it is not in conflict with anything that I have said either in the article under discussion or in The Construction of Social Reality. The point I am making is that you will not have

to domination by powerful others’. But in fact



any sense of why the dramatic categories are so important unless you can see how they impinge on social ontology. And in order to see that, you have to have an adequate onto- logical theory. He writes, ‘But those of us who think that institutions are also composed of individuals drawing on metaphors, narratives, tropes, and genres might wonder whether Searle’s attempt to reduce institution-composing beliefs down to constitutive rules results in a loss of analytic power’ (p. 54, my emphasis). This passage contains a mis- understanding. Just as in his previous objection he makes a false opposition between habitual acceptance and collective intentionality, so here he makes a false opposition between constitutive rules and the modes of their expression. Status functions may derive from and be expressed by means of metaphors, narratives and all the rest. There is nothing ‘reductionist’ in my account. But at some point it is necessary to lay bare the logical structure which results from the metaphors and narratives and that is what I am trying to do. He cites, for example, historical works by Charles Taylor and Margaret Somers. But such books do not offer competing accounts to The Construction of Social Reality. On the contrary, I regard them as complementary, because they are trying to describe the historical evolution of specific institutional structures. I am trying to describe the underlying logical structures. Historical accounts tell how these logical structures developed. He says ‘It is not clear to me that narratives of the kind that interest Somers and Taylor can be reduced down to a series of constitutive rules taking the form “X counts as Y in context C” ’ (p. 54, my emphasis). But why should they be so reduced ? Reductionism, which was never my aim, would require that nothing is going on in the creation and evolution of human institutions except the imposition and development of status functions according to constitutive rules, and I make no such claim. Think of the development and eventual abolition of the institution of slavery in the United States. All sorts of things went on, including the Civil War. In order to show a genuine disagree- ment, he would have to show that accounts using narratives, metaphors and so forth are actually inconsistent with my account and that they can account for facts that I cannot account for. But he has not done that. I make a strong claim: at the end of the day, when the historical story has been told, we are left with a framework of constitutive rules, status functions, and institutional facts. As I see it, the story of how we got there provides non-competing answers to different sets of questions, not competing answers to the set of questions that I am asking. You will not understand the role of the historicist account of the development of institutions unless you perceive the fundamental underlying ontology of the institutions which develop. I am, by the way, less optimistic than he about the favorable outcome of ‘building a bridge between the sociology of culture and literary theory’ (p. 53), because the literary theory I am familiar with offers very feeble accounts of language. My article ‘Literary Theory and its Discontents’ (Searle, 1994) articulates some of my misgivings. But I express doubt about a specific state of development of a subject, not doubts about the existence of the subject matter or the fruitfulness of its study. Finally, Gross talks as though there were well-defined disciplines of sociology and ‘analytic philosophy’ and he apparently thinks I am trying to start a ‘dialogue’ between the two. This is a misconception. Most ‘analytic philosophers’ have no interest whatever in social ontology. I am fascinated by the subject and see it as essential to an overall account of ontology. I need all the help I can get, from sociology or elsewhere. At the level at which we are trying to work, the distinctions between academic disciplines



Searle versus Durkheim. Reply to Gross

simply do not matter. If sociology is defined as the study of society, and ‘analytic phil- osophy’ is at least partly defined as the study of logical structures, then there is a necess- ary overlap between sociology and analytic philosophy, because society has a logical structure. That is the central claim of The Construction of Social Reality, and, by the way, I find nothing remotely like it in Durkheim.


1 See, for example, North (1990: 3); (cited by D’Andrade in this issue).

2 For example, the statements:


Bush was elected the president of the USA



the president of the USA is identical with Laura’s husband

do not imply

(c) Bush was elected Laura’s husband.

3 This issue is discussed in Searle (1990).


Durkheim, Emile (1938) The Rules of Sociological Method. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Durkheim, Emile (1953) ‘Individual and Collective Representations’, in Emile Durkheim Sociology and Philosophy, pp. 1–34. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Durkheim, Emile (1993 [1893]) The Division of Labor in Society, trans. G. Simpson. New York: Free Press. North, Douglass (1990) Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Searle, John R. (1990) ‘Collective Intentions and Actions’, in P. Cohen, J. Morgan, and M.E. Pollack (eds) Intentions in Communication, pp. 401–15. Cambridge, MA:

MIT Press. (Reprinted in Consciousness and Language [2002] Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.) Searle, John R. (1994) ‘Literary Theory and its Discontents’, New Literary History 25(3): 637–67.