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John Searle: biography of this influential philosopher

John Searle: biography of this influential philosopher

November 29, 2022

John Searle (1932-) is an American philosopher renowned for his contributions to the philosophy of the mind and the philosophy of language. His proposals have had important repercussions not only in these areas, but also in epistemology, ontology, the social study of institutions, practical reasoning, artificial intelligence, among many others.

We'll see now the biography of John Searle , as well as some of his main works and contributions to philosophy.

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John Searle: Biography of a pioneer in the philosophy of language

John Searle was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1932. He is the son of an executive and a physicist, with whom he moved several times until finally settled in the state of Wisconsin, where he began his university career.


After graduating as a PhD in philosophy from the University of Oxford in 1959, Searle has been teaching at the faculty of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley .

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The theory of speech acts

While studying at the University of Oxford, John Searle was formed with the British philosopher John Langshaw Austin, who had developed the Theory of Speech Acts. A large part of Searle's work has consisted in retaking and continuing the development of the latter.

Declarative acts and illocutionary acts

Through this theory, Austin criticized the tendency of contemporary philosophers, specifically the philosophers of logical positivism , that propose that the language is only descriptive, that is, that the only possible language is one that makes descriptive statements, which may or may not be true only according to the context.


According to Austin, there are constative linguistic expressions (which are descriptive statements), but they only occupy a small part of the meaningful uses of language. More than constant declarations, for Austin there are performative statements (which he called "speech acts"). These speech acts have different levels, one of them being the "illocutionary acts" or "illocutionary acts". These are statements that have functionalities and concrete effects in the social sphere.

For example, promises, orders, requests. That is, they are statements that, when named, display actions, or said the other way around, these are actions that are carried out only when they are named .

The contributions of this thinker

John Searle resumed the theory of speech acts, and has focused specifically on the analysis of illocutionary acts, their propositional content and the rules that follow (under the conditions necessary for a statement to have performative effects).


According to Searle, a speech act is a situation that includes a speaker, a listener and a speaker broadcast. And an illocutionary or illocutionary act is the minimum unit of linguistic communication. For the philosopher, linguistic communication includes acts , and this is because, by themselves, noises and written signs do not establish communication.

For linguistic communication to be established, it is a necessary condition that certain intentions exist. The latter means that when we communicate (by asking or stating something) we act, we are part of a series of semantic rules.

John Searle elaborates this complex proposal through describe both the semantic rules , as the different genres of illocutionary acts, their propositional contents, the situations in which speech occurs, among other elements.

Contributions to the philosophy of the mind

In his academic and intellectual career, John Searle has significantly linked language with the mind. For him, Speech acts are closely related to mental states .

Specifically, he has been interested in the relationship between intentionality and consciousness. It proposes that not all mental states are intentional, however, beliefs and desires, for example, have an intentional structure insofar as they are connected to something in particular.

Likewise, it suggests that consciousness is an intrinsically biological process, with which, it is not possible build a computer whose processor is the same as our conscience . His contributions have been especially important for the cognitive sciences, the philosophy of the mind and the discussions about the possibility of creating Strong Artificial Intelligence (which not only imitates the human mind, but actually reproduces it).

To put the latter in question, John Searle has proposed a thought experiment known as The China Room, which explains how an operating system could imitate the mind and human behavior if given a series of rules to order in a specific way a series of symbols; without the operating system necessarily understanding what those symbols mean, and without you being developing an intentionality and an awareness of it .

John Searle has contributed importantly to the discussion about division and the relationship between mind and body. For him, these two are not radically different substances, as had been established by Descartes since the seventeenth century, and are not reducible to each other (for example, the brain is not exactly the same as the mind), but it is about phenomena that are intrinsically connected.

Bibliographic references:

  • Fotion, N. (2018). John Searle. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved June 5, 2018. Available at //www.britannica.com/biography/John-Searle.
  • Valdés, L. (1991) (Ed.). The search for meaning. Language philosophy readings. Tecnos: University of Murcia.

The Philosophy of Language with John Searle (November 2022).


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