Searle is simplistic and naïve, but sometimes funny!

I’m reading John Searle’s The Mystery of Consciousness and I’m feeling appropriately enraged, I actually have to put the book down from time to time and let out a quiet scream of frustration. His way of dealing with philosophical questions is just so naïve I find myself constantly asking out loud: “Can you be serious?!”

He’s not like some annoying philosophers (perhaps found most commonly among philosophers of mind, which is by its nature more speculative than, say, general philosophy of science or philosophy of language): metaphysically extravagant, positing all kinds of exotic and empirically unverified entities. No, Searle is annoying in almost the opposite direction: being satisfied with the conclusions he can reach through common sense he then goes on to explain how these common sense concepts fit together, what logical relationships maintain between them and so on. Whenever he uses some term or exclaims some memorable catchphrase which appeals to his unexamined intuitions (and supposedly those of his readers, though I certainly find very little even in the intuitions that seem convincing, and even less in the attempted defenses of these common sense positions).

However much time I’d like to spend venting my frustration over the almost complete lack of an attempt, on the part of Searle, to analyze his concepts, their interpretations and their implications (phrases like “syntax is not sufficient for semantics!” are repeated as mantras… ad nauseam… ad vomica [please have mercy on my invented Latin phrase there, I'm sure that's all wrong grammatically somehow...]) I won’t do that here and now, though I might try to summon the strength to write a review when I’m finished. Today, I just wanted to call your attention to a passage where Searle manages to make some sense and to do so in a subtly mocking, and therefore fun-bone tickling, manner. The target is an annoying philosopher of the first kind, you know, the one of which Searle was the “almost-opposite”: David Chalmers. Now Chalmers is travelling, apparently happily and leisurely, along the kookier roads of Metaphysical Land and Searle, rightly, scorns Chalmers’ metaphysical woo. He does so in a manner that almost reminds one of the way in which Dennett, at least equally rightfully, treats many of Searle’s own ideas. I’ll let the passage speak for itself as I have long since overstayed my visit in Introductory Commentaries of Short Quotes Land (which is hopefully a more coherent and less enraging place than Metaphysical Land):

I have so far been considering only those absurdities that [Chalmers] explicitly commits himself to. These are bad enough, but when at one point he warns the reader that he is about to enter “the realm of speculative metaphysics” (p. 302) (unlike the previous 300 pages?), he goes off the rails completely.

— John Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness, p. 157


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