It has been some time since I wanted to write this post about one of SPIRE’s graduates, who recently published a philosophy book at 77. A search on Amazon returns, apart from this book, two others: the 1975 Techniques and Public Administration: A Contextual Evaluation, published by Fontana, and the 1976, Victoria Park, Manchester: A Nineteenth-century Suburb in Its Social and Administrative Context, published by Manchester University Press.

Who is the author and what is the philosophy book just mentioned?

Maurice Spiers graduated from Keele in 1955 in Economics and Politics. He ran 100yds for English Universities and had his exams rearranged in dispensation in 1952. He then went on as a postgraduate to Manchester University. He was offered an academic job at Bradford University, where he taught until the 1980s.  He then took early retirement to run his own business and went back to academic endeavours with a new book: My Philosophical Investigations: A Personal Enquiry.

This is in short the author, but a more detailed presentation can be found in an article by Wyn Grant (Warwick University), which can be accessed here. (See p. 34.)

For a quick overview of the book, you can download the Chapter Headings, as well as Writers Mentioned mentioned in the book. The author has also kindly sent for our readers Chapter 15. The book was self-published in 2009 and can be bought on Amazon and Blackwell.

Reviews of the book or of parts of the book, as well as comments are most welcome!

5 thoughts on “Philosophical Investigations

  1. I am very pleased that Sorin has posted my book. Any comments etc will be very welcome. I will be describing its contents much more fully shortly and hope to have some reactions.

    1. Austin,Searle and Social Nominalism.

      Readers will see from the above title what is the subject matter of this posting. May I before I attend to this , mention briefly my actual professional background with regard to academic philosophy. My original Keele degree was in Political Institutions and Economics, and my post graduate degree, by thesis only was from Manchester. My aquaintance with academic philiosophy can through teaching Poltical Theory (philosophy?).
      However, I had some contact with the two Professors who held chairs at that time,(1951-1955) These were, Gallie, (of paperback on Peirce fame), and Teale,(of Kant fame – whose chair was called Moral Philosophy). I recall both well, e.g. I well remember producing an essay for Gallie on Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of History’, durung the now disasterously abolished Foundation Year. Teale was an ex-Coop Movement socialist who Lord Lindsay, (Of Appeasement fame) as well as Gallie, I think, brought up from Balliol(?),Oxford at the Foundation. Teale was such a nice old gentleman, ( a word I don’t like using – but for once, it fits better than any other). And of course, like all the other FY students, I attended all the lectures on Philosophy given by these two – probably about six each. In teaching much later, I always found it helpful to place politcs in a context of philosophy – I’m not sure how successfully.

      I will now get on with Austin and Searle

  2. Austin, Searle and Social Nominalism.

    Recent reviews encourage rereading J.L.Austin’s ‘How to do things with Words’ (1975) and J.R.Searle’s recently published book, ‘Making the Social World’. Although these books, their detailed content and their broad philosophical approach are quite different, they are very importantly similar in certain philosophical senses which makes a combined study of their content a revealing philosophical exercise, particularly when the writer has a strong attraction to some version of nominalism. No attempt has been made to place the discussion within the extensive literatures in both cases because, apart from space considerations, I reckon there is ample evidence in these writings to illustrate a brief summary of what I call ‘social nominalism’. What the works have in common is a strong preoccupation with what is believed to be the key, even fundamental place that spoken language has, as a way to understand human experience. This in itself is not particularly dramatic, since it might be fair to say that large tracts of the loosely termed ‘analytic philosophy’ share this feature, since nobody can deny that spoken language is a largely (though not entirely) a social phenomenon. But if the claim that the philosopher’s job, when this approach is taken, is to display this key role of language, where the enquirer begins in the face of the incomparable vastness of the phenomenon of human speech, must display how that philosopher rates the social context of that speech.

    The answer was to more or less to assume away any comprehensive involvement of the social context of human speech, and to allow the enquirer to select those particular forms of speech which seemed necessary to illustrate the general argument of the position being taken. Of course, in 1957 (Urmson’s publication of Austin’s lectures), and at the present time (Searle), various devices have been available to restrict the necessity of the study of the need to apply more rigorously the actual social context of anything supposedly said by any person. The obvious choice was bound to be some propositional form, easily explained because of the strong place formal logic had in the interests of the early ‘linguistic turn’ philosophers. The fact that, for example, first person singular present indicative active forms can be typical of actual spoken English, (e.g. to describe repeated actions in the past, present and future –‘I go to France every year’,) is a good case, whose great variety of possible contexts would not be thought particularly germane to the study.
    Of course Austin did not think of language in this way, neither need he have done, so that his approach cannot be considered as a philosophical fault in any sense The kind of presuppositions that were forming the basis of his thought were a preoccupation with trying to diminish the problems that arose from the isolation of the characteristics of statements in present tense English, which seemed to overlap with various more technical difficulties. These were, for example, paradoxes related to verbs like ‘exist’ or the precise status of language forms that link ‘is’ and ‘ought’ together, or again, the ambiguities that arise when trying to say exactly what the thoroughly philosophically embedded terms ‘true’ and ‘false’ actually mean. Austin proposed to do this by harnessing the forms which were then dubbed, ‘ordinary language’, i.e., how people actually speak. We will leave out any problems associated with ‘which people’.

    This is not the place, neither is it necessary for our purposes, to mount a thorough elucidation of ‘How to do things with Words’ (HTDTWWs). Very briefly, although Austin is often credited with the major contributions to modern speech act theory, he did not use this actual term in HTDTWWs as a basis for his analysis, preferring the generic term ‘utterance’, or e.g., ‘speech situation’ for the context of the utterance. The ambiguities of the use of ‘statement’ were to some extent dispelled by the introduction of his word ‘constative’, which seems to have meant an utterance in the present indicative active indicating that something happens more than once. Austin also went to great analytic lengths, (not, self admittedly completely successful) to compare these utterances with what he famously called ‘performatives’, i.e, an utterance that indicated clearly that a person was ‘doing something’. He went on to develop a complex, abstract classificatory system, which attempted to cover all possibilities expressible in English. HTDTWWs is peppered with slightly self deprecatory remarks as Austin was too original a philosophical hand to claim that he achieved this. The use of the striking sentence, ‘We then have to take a further step out into the desert of comparative precision.’ Page 55. (My italics), suggests his full awareness of the immanence of exceptions to most of his categories. Except for his being unable to resist his urge to systematise, e.g. the temptation to use similar sounding words, one thinks of ‘the -ives’ of his five-fold classification of performative verbs, Page 151, which can misleadingly give an impression of rigour, this is the main serious criticism one can make of HTDTWWs, except that is, of the method used. This is what we might call ‘the concepts first’ method. This can be applied in many fields of philosophy. One invents a system of ideas, and then adds examples, post facto, for each of the categories, and for any category which stands for the relations between any used categories. The category system comes first, and the examples very much second. Where examples do not come readily to mind, there is a strong temptation not to alter the category system, but to invent examples ‘to complete the picture’ without much regard to how they relate to those previously used.

    The potential for cross classification, and inconsistency and serious manipulation of the example to suit the system is pretty apparent, as well as the invocation of simply inapplicable or worse ‘hardly ever applicable’ examples. Put much more aggressively, one could say that Austin’s original system and the illustrations given, hardly applies at all to the way people actually speak, and despite being attractive to the philosophical mind for what it actually is, i.e. a sophisticated elaborate abstract system. Nevertheless, although pure speech act theory is now somewhat passé, one must give much credit for Austin’s major achievement in his attempt to make ordinary language a subject for serious systematic theoretical study, in those early post Wittgensteinian days.

    Of course the term ‘speech act’ was coined by John Searle. If Austin confined his attention to a very restricted application of social context, and chose his examples of actual practical speech to suit the theory, as and when they occurred to him, Searle has produced a series of books which give language an increasingly key role in both the human being’s experience of his social world, and in the academic’s attempts to understand society systematically, and, one might say, totally. In this quest, he took over and developed much of Austin’s system but appears to give a larger and larger role to spoken language as a ‘directing’ social influence as the profusion of his output has progressed. The latest book, ‘Making the Social World. The Structure of Human Civilisation.’, amply illustrates this judgement. Most academics of the social sciences and probably most philosophers would doubt whether this ‘grand over-arching’ theory is possible in the modern world, but Searle is the most able of system builders, and boldly expects to be able to set out a complete ‘social ontology’ which he seemingly expects to apply to all societies. If one can claim to detect trends in social science theory and research, this writer would opt for increasing preoccupation with detail. Nevertheless, in the latest book, this ‘declarative’ function of language, reaches a condition of total compliance for Searle states, ‘All human social institutions are brought into existence by a single logico-linguistic operation that can be applied over and over again…..all human institutions are linguistic.’(Page 62-63.). How exactly does S. argue that this comes about? First, we have ‘institutions’. These are not the ‘political institutions’ I grew up with – easy to recognise and define, but can be almost any activity where people are involved in roughly the same activity. He takes one or two obvious ones like, as always, marriage and money, but without some more restricting definition, more or less anything could count e.g. do all the varieties of contemporary cohabitation count, even though there may not be any single word for them? These institutions persist and so must be controlled by society in some way, (not formally by law necessarily), but Searle’s yearning for some general system of pressure which causes this persistence means that he has to invent something classificatory and abstract, so we have, ‘a system of constitutive rules’ (Page 10), like the Presidency or a cocktail party. All institutions have a ‘status function’ i.e. the function performed by the institution which is collectively recognised. Again the problem of definition – exactly who does the recognition? Society as a whole? Not very helpful. There must be many examples of vague group behaviour which do not fall within these broad categories, i.e., many marginal cases. But Searle goes further.

    The status functions, through collective recognition, have deontic powers. These appear to be rights, duties and entitlements that attach (my word) to these functions. These are not always enshrined in law notice, so there is room for every degree of strength or intensity. This can only mean any minimally similar and coherent behaviour of people that can be isolated by study or reflection. But in what sense can these inevitably amorphous groupings, many of which overlap in highly complex ways, or which might only be in an incipient state, impose rules or constraints on their members?

    But let us return to Searle’ major claim. This is that language, and by this he means people talking, plays not just an important role in the origin of new behaviour. Also throughout the life of his so loosely defined institutions, it displays an absolutely critical and indeed an essentially creative one, to the exclusion of other factors normally held to be relevant in such cases. Apart from the general criticism that in any particular contemporary advanced society, except for the society wide practices like, as always, ‘marriage and money’, the very existence of less widespread and accepted ‘institutions’ can itself be politically controversial. This means that the notion of ‘collective recognition’ or ‘acceptance’ cannot be consistently applied, since Searle’s system implies that it has to be applied in all cases, however widespread or not, the chosen behaviour is found to be. But for this writer, the weakest category in the system, because of its looseness of application, is Searle’s notion of ‘deontology’. This is where Searle’s admittedly radical ideas about language are most crucial. He sees language as fundamentally committing whoever is using it, whether thought of as an individual, or as some ‘society wide’ condition, to some kind of individual and/or collective commitment to some collectively realised empirical version of the social reality of the society or culture in question. For example, Searle writes of the selection of leadership, ‘Once you and others recognise someone as leader…. you have a public deontology. But notice how the language we use to describe these phenomena functions. It creates them.’(Page 85. My italics). It appears therefore that the truly vast amount of talk that goes on all the time in any modern society as people go about their daily business is, if Searle’s theory is to command any credibility, largely engaged in creating and maintaining those institutional structures, and their attached systems of acceptance and deontologies. It doesn’t matter how that culture might be structured in practice or that people don’t know that this is what they are really doing. But all of these elements in such an abstract system, including even the possibility of their application would often be actually and contemporaneously, and quite possibly very publicly controversial. It follows that Searle’s most generally stated claims slip into becoming little more than mere guide-lines to any alleged society-wide behaviour. This seems to be very much the case, despite the subtle and engagingly attractive but abstract systems of ‘high gloss’ jargon that Searle has continued to invent and re-invent over the years.

    How then is the social philosopher, for that is what Searle has turned himself into, to proceed? Before trying to deal with this question, it might be as well to note that discussion of the status of these conceptual systems raises one of the most fundamental of philosophical problems – that is the status of ‘universals’. In the opinion of this writer, a succinct discussion of this issue, with particular reference to its illustration in the English language, is Russell’s essay, ‘The World of Universals’ in his; The Problems of Philosophy.(1912). Here, Russell alleges that these entities are endemic in all spoken language, since one cannot mention any one thing, without assuming that reference to it implies similar other entities which share some aspect (avoiding the word ‘quality’) of its existence, in common. Even reference to a particular thing needed, according to this view, the use of universal terms to say anything about it. A convenient way to illustrate this topic is to take any feature of any solid object, and create an abstract noun from it. Any colour, for example, by adding the suffix ‘ness’. Since there are many such coloured objects, what they have in common is the ‘ness’ of the colour viz; whiteness, greenness, and the like. This procedure can be extended so that all public reference, on all of Searle’s, ‘occasions of use’ (speech acts) of all the words used in declarations concerning particular institutions, perpetually reinforce the all embracing currency of these universal usages. The job of the philosopher then is, to create, to use an innovative Searlism, ‘metaphysical systems of recognition’, which participate ‘universally’ in some non-particular world, (for this later-early Russell, allowing such a designation) of being. He put it thus, ‘The world of being is unchangeable, rigid, exact, delightful to the mathematician, the logician, the builder of metaphysical systems, and all who love perfection more than life’.
    In the essay referred to, Russell elegantly skates round the problem of how we actually know about these universals. We suggest that it is simply by socially learning by immitatation and repetition of the use of particular words in particular social contexts. The universals are not ‘there’ before the usage, and the actual usage should be examined with whatever detail can be mustered in particular situations and/or contexts.

    How then does what I shall call social nominalism deal with the philosophical issues raised by Seale’s latest work? This very brief version of a social nominalism is suggested. First, recognise that most words, when actually spoken have, at the same time, both a universal and a particular usage. Thus when one says, ‘marriage’ one refers unavoidably, to both a particular marriage, and one also raises the possibility, by continuing the reference with the grammatically correct inclusion of the word, that the word could be used as referring in the same way, universally, i.e. to all marriages that have, could, or might, ever have existed.. This might be dubbed, ‘the illusion of universal reference’. The strong temptation is then to pursue the search, in general terms, for the general characteristics of this, ‘universal marriage’ by the incorporation of more and more universal terms. This search should not be followed. Second in order to understand any particular institution, the social nominalist procedure would be to isolate one by one the particular features of that actual example, which, it would be suggested, are characteristic of that particular institution, e.g., it is between Mr. X. and Miss Y. This procedure is followed until many features are mentioned and isolated, until the unique status and peculiar features of this particular case is
    completely established. There need be no limit to these features. Of course, actual speech act behaviour can, for Searle, include any human contact with or without talk, as the passing of the drink in a pub shows. Further, social context may well provide for the avoidance of explicit particular reference through the use of general or abstract terms, and there may be many social and political advantages to such avoidance of particular cases in actual speech act behaviour.

    Maurice Spiers. March. 2011.

    1. Since my stuff has not generated any comments, perhaps not surprising in these extremely difficult times – I post the following few lines for my own amusement. It aims to be a poem in a sonnet form.

      English Philosophy.

      The solitary midnight star may sometimes find
      Me pondering what’s inside another’s mind;
      For what’s inside my own I can’t reveal
      As perfect propositions elegantly steal
      All as I sense it; does it then exist
      Through cultures long since gone? I can’t resist
      The thought that objects have a fixed remit
      To mean what people make their fashions fit.
      My reading tells me not when I shall die,
      Will I find friends and lovers, tell me why
      The rich in priceless class, the poor in rows
      Do they fight miles apart or structured foes?
      So let’s away with oughts and stub the toe;
      In truth no art nor talk nor science probes behind
      A murderous blow, a bow, a joke or action kind.

      Maurice Spiers. October 2011.

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