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Self-in-a-Vat. On John Searle's Ontology of Reasons for Acting

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  • Philosophy
  • Psychology


PoSS282918.vp 10.1177/0048393105282918PHILOSOPHY OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES / December 2005Kaufmann / SELF-IN-A-VAT Self-in-a-Vat: On John Searle’s Ontology of Reasons for Acting LAURENCE KAUFMANN University of Lausanne, Switzerland John Searle has recently developed a theory of reasons for acting that intends to rescue the freedom of the will, endangered by causal determinism, whether physical or psychological. To achieve this purpose, Searle postulates a series of “gaps” that are supposed to endow the self with free will. Reviewing key steps in Searle’s argument, this article shows that such an undertaking cannot be suc- cessfully completed because of its solipsist premises. The author argues that rea- sons for acting do not have a subjective, I-ontology but a first-person plural, We- ontology that better accounts for agency and responsibility. Keywords: free will; agency; reasons for acting; ontology John Searle always raises fundamental issues for philosophers and sociologists.1 He has raised questions about language (how can mean- ing be passed on by mere sound waves; Searle 1969), about the mind (how the mind can be connected to the physical structure of the brain; Searle 1992), and about society (how institutions can be part of an objective world; Searle 1995). In Rationality in Action, Searle (2001b) now wonders how individuals can escape from the causal determin- ism of natural forces to freely act upon reasons. He attempts to clarify and refocus the debate by using a conceptual apparatus cutting across the interdisciplinary boundaries separating the philosophies of mind, language, and society (Clément & Kaufmann, 1996). According to Searle, the common building blocks of the human sciences are intentionality, that is, the property for a mental state to be about some- thing, and speech acts. These are the only phenomena whose ontol- 447 Received 4 December 2002 Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 35 No. 4, December 2005 447-479 DOI: 10.1177/0048393105282918 © 2005 Sage P

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