Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Concerning Brute Facts

Institutional facts differ from brute facts in that the former are ontologically subjective, but sociologically objective; the latter, conversely, are not dependent on individual or corporate (= collective or shared) intentionality for their existence.[1] They appear to be ontologically objective: “Brute facts require no human institutions for their existence.”[2] Searle defines facts (brute or institutional) as “conditions in the world that satisfy the truth conditions expressed by statements.”[3] He construes “facts” as truth makers. Accordingly, the existence of the Sun or the atomic weight of hydrogen are brute facts that objectively satisfy certain truth conditions associated with locutions such as “The atomic weight of hydrogen is 1,” while “This loaf on the table is showbread” constitutes an assertion that is institutionally factual.[4] More specifically, the utterance regarding showbread is only a genuine datum, Searle would probably insist, if and only if a determinate social group has invested a certain loaf of bread on a particular table with a designated status-function “showbread.”[5] Correspondingly, the rules associated with games like cricket, football, basketball, golf apparently are the result of corporate intentionality: discourse communities valorize these various games by means of “we-intentions.” Vanhoozer contends that sports games are products of human valorization.[6] Their respective status-functions depend on the representational system of a given speech community and its collective intentionality. As such, they are institutional facts.[7] Institutional facts are a particular subset of social facts.

[1] Searle, Construction of Social Reality, 27.

[2] Ibid. 2. See Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, 250; Pinker, Blank Slate, 65.

[3] Searle, Construction of Social Reality, 211.

[4] The present author is not suggesting that the proposition concerning showbread is only an institutional fact. But, at the very least, the claim regarding showbread is an institutional fact. If Judaism (along with its arrangements for worship or atonement) had never existed, then “showbread” (as it is currently known) would never have existed. For a similar line of reasoning, see Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, 213-214.

[5] Searle, Construction of Social Reality, 2.

[6] See Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, 244-245; Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 106.

[7] For a sustained critique of Searle’s notion of institutional facts, see Alex Viskovatoff’s “Searle, Rationality, and Social Reality,” 7-44 in Koepsell and Moss (ed), in John Searle’s Ideas about Social Reality: Extensions, Criticisms, and Reconstructions (Malden and Oxford: Blackwell, 2003). He argues that rational agents do not have to collectively accept institutions in order for them to exist.

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