John Searle Assesses and Advises

Tim Crane interviewed John Searle, and all he got was a lousy t-shirt another dimissal of the state of contemporary philosophy: “It’s in terrible shape!”  Searle also talks about his influences, discusses his new book on perception, makes what we can charitably call an “opening move” on the topic of human rights, and offers some advice to young philosophers:

Well, my advice would be to take questions that genuinely worry you. Take questions that really keep you awake at nights, and work on them with passion…. We bully the graduate students into thinking that they have to accept our conception of what is a legitimate philosophical problem, so very few of them come with their own philosophical problems. They get an inventory of problems that they get from their professors. My bet would be to follow your own passion. That would be my advice. That’s what I did.

I can’t figure out what to make of this. I don’t think that the main reason “so very few” students come up with their own philosophical problems is that their professors have been bullying them into accepting their conception of what counts as a legitimate philosophical problem. Two other explanations come to mind. One is that their professors have a pretty good idea of what counts as a legitimate philosophical problem and so it is no surprise that some of their students would want to take up these problems, too. And since it seems that there are many extant philosophical questions on which more work could be done, it is not clear that this is a problem. The other explanation is that coming up with new philosophical problems is not easy. So it is not surprising that fewer students do so.

So yes, young philosophers, work on questions that genuinely worry you. And don’t take existing ways of framing the conceptual landscape for granted. And don’t be afraid to formulate new questions (and be sure to explain how these new questions hook up with or speak to or replace or otherwise relate to the old ones). And hey you profs who don’t like to see your students do these great  things, well, come out of John Searle’s imagination and defend yourselves.

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