TA 100 (Smith)


Commentary 11


[ The following is a response by JR Searle to Papineauís discussion of his recent book, discussed in C8.It was published as a letter to the editor in Times Literary Supplement 1 Febr 2008, p.6†† -†† HFJM ]





by John R Searle

1 February 2008, posted 23 February 2008



I am grateful for David Papineau's thoughtful review of my book Freedom and Neurobiology and for his comments on other aspects of my work (January 18). He will not be surprised to hear that I disagree with many of his criticisms. The point of this letter, however, is not to discuss specific philosophical issues, but to correct his misunderstanding of my overall aim. Papineau thinks that my aim in philosophy is to defend common sense. He even associates me with G. E. Moore, who wrote a famous "Defence of Common Sense". That is not my aim and it never has been. I am not, as he says, siding with the person riding "on the Clapham omnibus" against professional philosophers. If by "common sense" is meant what technically untrained people generally believe, then I would suppose common sense is in favour of some form of mind-body dualism. The man on the Clapham omnibus presumably believes he has a mind (or soul) and, quite separate from that, a body. I have always rejected this view.

I can illustrate my method with one of the examples he discusses. When addressing the mind-body problem I start not with "common sense" but with what I know, or at least think I know, for a fact. Here are some putative facts, not from common sense but from neurobiology : all of my conscious processes are caused by neuronal processes (apparently in the thalamocortical system), and they are going on right there in the brain. I put this by saying that consciousness is "caused by and realized in" the brain. He points out that the resultant view is inconsistent with standard philosophical accounts of causation and reduction. Quite so. Given a choice between the facts and standard philosophical theories, I will take the facts any time. My aim is not to assert or deny common sense, but to get as close to the truth as I can, and present arguments as powerful as I can against views that I think are mistaken and in favour of views that I think are correct. Whether or not the resulting view is "common sense" is to me irrelevant.




John R. Searle

Department of Philosophy, University of California,

314 Moses Hall, Berkeley, California 94720.