Exercise 1.0 The Construction of Social Reality

In his book, The Construction of Social Reality, John Searle writes ‘There are portions of the real world, objective facts in the world, that are only facts by human agreement. In a sense there are things that exist only because we believe them to exist. … things like money, property, governments, and marriages. Yet many facts regarding these things are ‘objective’ facts in the sense that they are not a matter of [our] preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes. (Searle, 1995, 1)

Make a list of 10 such ‘things that exist only because we believe them to exist.

  1. The rule of law
  2. Taxation
  3. Free trade agreements
  4. Relative poverty
  5. Nations
  6. Standardisation of time
  7. Language
  8. Religion
  9. Science
  10. Blue flag beaches

In approximately 150 words say how these things differ from e.g. mountains and forests.

These things are created by the human mind, whereas the physical constructs of nature like mountains and forests can exist without the need for human creation or interpretation. in his book, Searle (1995) identifies these things as ‘institutional facts’ – being created by institutions and needing human agreement for them to exist according to ‘[our] preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes‘. In contrast, Searle uses the term ‘brute facts’ to identify the artefacts of nature which can exist independently of such institutions.

Take ‘blue flag beaches’ as an institutional fact – a beach is awarded a blue flag if it conforms with a set of standards dictated by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). If the standards are not achieved for a particular beach, or the FEE does not continue to exist, the beach would nevertheless continue to physically exist as a beach.

Unlike brute facts, the creation of institutional facts rely on a system of language for humans to discuss and agree the ‘preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes‘ which shape each fact. Without language, institutional facts could not exist.

Why do you think Searle puts the word ‘objective’ in inverted commas?

I think Searle wanted to emphasise that while institutional facts are created from the subjective ‘preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes‘ of the human mind, once established they generate their own set of incontrovertible facts which can be measured (objective facts).  Take, for example, Taxation: the concept of taxation is created by the human mind according to ‘human preferences, evaluations or moral attitudes’ and, once established, we can answer such objective questions as “how many people pay tax?” and “how much tax has been raised?

References
Searle, J (1995) The construction of social reality. USA, The Free Press. Available from: https://www.scribd.com/read/224430184/The-Construction-of-Social-Reality [Accessed 22 January 2017]

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