Monday, January 21, 2008

Searle Profiled in The Times

It's been a while since I posted here. I've started three or four posts in the interim, but haven't been able to get the momentum going to finish them. I suspect I will eventually. In the mean time, though, today's London Times features a profile of John Searle, one of my teachers at Berkeley and probably my biggest philosophical influence. The author, fellow philosopher Dave Papineau, is pretty balanced in his discussion, both praising Searle for his accessible writing style and devotion to common sense, and criticizing him for some of his more controversial theories (like biological naturalism). Overall, it's a very good article about one of the most celebrated (and controversial) philosophers of the 20th century (or so). The last paragraph is especially good, and neatly summarizes what I like most about Searle:

Still, perhaps Searle’s loyalty to everyday thinking is a price worth paying for his undoubted virtues. During the course of his intellectual lifetime, philosophy has become a dry and technical business. Most philosophers today write only for other philosophers about issues that can accurately be termed scholastic. Against this background, Searle is a beacon of accessible expertise, a throwback to a time when philosophy was part of public debate. His work is devoted to some of the most fundamental questions in philosophy, yet he never gets bogged down in the kind of esoteric disputation that forgets why the issues matter in the first place. If he does this by sticking closely to the firm ground of common sense, this has not prevented him from producing a constant stream of challenging views across a large range of topics. Fortunately, there is no sign of his stopping yet.

Searle, like me, is more or less a proponent of naive realism, which (broadly) dictates that the world in general really is the way it appears to us--think of it as radical anti-skepticism. This common sense defense of reality and the world around us is, I think, what makes Searle such a great thinker.


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