Monday, July 23, 2012

John Searle - Freedom and Neurobiology - Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power

This short 2004 book by noted philosopher John Searle, Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power, appears to be freely available online. I have included the first few paragraphs from the Introduction, which provide a little background on the book's origin in a lecture series he gave in France in 2001.

The table of contents:

Philosophy and the Basic Facts

Free Will as a Problem in Neurobiology


Social Ontology and Political Power



Philosophy and the Basic Facts

This book has had an unusual publication history, and in this introduction I am going to explain its history and attempt to locate its two chapters within the larger research project of which they are a part.

In late Spring of 2001, I gave a series of lectures at the Sorbonne, one a large public lecture in French on the general topic of language and political power, and some presentations in English to smaller groups, ranging from lectures to seminar discussions, under various auspices and on topics ranging from the freedom of the will to the semiotics of wine tasting. I was asked if I would allow two of these presentations, the lecture I had given in French on political power and one of the lectures in English on the problem of free will, to be published in France. I agreed, on the natural supposition that the two lectures would appear in a journal, or some such venue. To my surprise, my editor, Patrick Savidan, published the two lectures as a rather elegant, though small, book in French called Liberté et neurobiologie. I knew nothing of the publication plans until a boxful of books arrived at my home in Berkeley. It is the first time in my life that I published a book I did not know that I had written. Savidan did an excellent job translating the English lecture into French, and I was immensely helped in the preparation of the French text of the other lecture by Anne Hénault and especially by Natalie van Bockstaele.

Just as I was surprised by the publication of the French book I was equally surprised by swift publications of translations of the book from the French into German and Spanish, and, subsequently, Italian and Chinese. By coincidence, the publication in Germany came out while a great public debate was going on there about the status of free will, and the possibility of genuine free will, given contemporary neurobiology. In Germany, the book received several reviews, some quite negative, in daily newspapers of the sort that do not normally review philosophical works.

After all of this, I was approached by Columbia University Press with the proposal to produce an “English translation.” I had the original English texts on which the viva voce lectures in Paris were based, so it was not necessary to translate the French text. Furthermore, in the intervening years, I had revised “Language and Power,” and this revised version, called “Social Ontology and Political Power,” is presented here, because it comes closer to my current views than does the original 2001 text.

The two lectures published here, one about the problem of free will and neurobiology and the other about language, social ontology and political power, do not appear to have any connection with each other. And at one level, the level of authorial intent, they really do not have any connection. It would never have occurred to me while I was preparing them that they would one day be published together. However, they are both parts of a much larger philosophical enterprise and it is worth explaining that enterprise, as it will deepen the reader’s understanding of what I am trying to do in these lectures. Because I discuss some important philosophical issues in a rather brief and compressed fashion in what follows, I will provide references to some of the works in which I have discussed these same issues at greater length.

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