I used as feature image a picture taken as a still from the movie, Dead Poets Society – During this chapter of the studies, reading Plato and trying to get to grips with the theory I came upon the discovery that the USA was born with the idealism embedded in the Platonic optimism.  Susan Sontag also refers to the Whitmanian ideals of the early America and how artists tried to work within those ideas, but that the “photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world” (1979,3)  It becomes clear that reality was being demystified by art and that idealized images, such as Whitmans’ euphoric humanism is being challenged as a historical understanding of reality.


Exercise 3.1

Can you see a connection between Emerson’s remarks and the view expressed by Searle in Chapter one?

Emerson’s remarks from Exercise 3.1 in the study material:

“If our restless curiosity lead us to unearth the buried cities and dig up the mummy pits and spell out the abraded characters on Egyptian stones, shall we see a less venerable antiquity in the clouds and the grass?  An everlasting Now reigns in Nature that produces on our bushes the selfsame Rose which charmed the Roman and the Chaldaean.  The grain and the vine, the ant and the moth are as long-descended.  The slender violet harth preserved in the face of the sun and moon the humility of his line and the oldest work of man is an upstart by the side of the shells of the sea.”

Searle quote from Exercise 1.0 in the study material :

“There are portions of the real world, objective facts in the world, that are only facts by human agreement.  In a sense there are things that exist only because we believe them to exists — things like money, property, governments, and marriages.  Yet many facts regarding these things are ‘objective’ facts in the sense that they are not a matter of [our] preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes. “

  • Emerson and Searle are both focussing their ideas that human beings are conscious beings, who can think and by using language/institutions to agree/disagree how to utilize our being/life/purpose/reality.
  • They describe in their writings this view of the world/reality that holds natural or material phenomena and our interaction within and with it.
  • Emerson describes in a poetic and romantic way as he mentions humans,  plants, stones, ants and moths, sea shells, the sea, sun and the moon and consciousness – ”restless curiosity” and ‘ an everlasting now … reigns in nature… that produces….as long descended”
  • I see Emerson’s idea of  an intimate relationship between humans, nature and the divine, and his way he sees man interpreting his reality.
  • Looking at his background I understand Emerson to be a idealist at this stage of his life, maybe even a bit of a sceptic (his wife died and through this his religious beliefs in a God being good, is challenged)
  • He is looking at reality by making a distinction of Reason and Understanding.
  • I would think is he a Platonian thinker as he continues to grow in the authority of individuality as his writings continue from this point on as well as his ideas on viewing and the importance of the eye and Nature.   P
  • platonism is seen  in the Dualism of Being (“true world”) and Becoming (“this world”). The “highest level” is attainable through wisdom.
  • In the philosophy of Emerson man and nature is the most important.
  • Searle states that we live in one world, and suggests that we must not accept any kind of dualism that says that there are two kinds of entities—the mental and the physical—nor, even worse, trialism, the view that says there are three kinds of realities—mental, physical, and cultural.
  • According to Searle there is only one reality. We all live in it.
  • John Searle declares that “the famous mind-body problem, the source of so much controversy over the past two millennia, has a simple solution, namely  to acknowledge that “Mental phenomena are caused by neurophysiological processes in the brain and are themselves features of the brain.” (1992, 1)  – “a condition that the system is in”, he also refers to ideal.
  • I my further readings of Emerson below, I came to the understanding that Emerson also believed in one reality, “one essence’. I think two concepts comes to the front in Nature: first, he argues that a purely scientific understanding of our physical being does not preclude a spiritual existence; secondly, that nature embodies a divine intelligence. Reconciling those views, he argued that we need  fear neither scientific progress nor the grand claims of religion.
  • I see, him very much like Darwin, where in the passage he quoted archaeology and the biological sciences,  where man place himself in the past and present of this reality, with some of nature being much older than that what man discovers through archaeology.  Here,  he emphasizes the importance of the newly discovered antiquity of our planet:  He lists the utilitarian advantages of studying nature – which comes with our ‘restless curiosity’, naming and categorising.
  • Emerson could have built his theory upon the adaptation of Kant’s ideas: Kant gave an especially clear account of transcendentalism in his work, The Critique of Pure Reason.   According to his definition, the word transcendental means not something that lies outside of all experience, but indeed that which precedes experience (a priori), even though it is destined to nothing more than to make cognison of experience possible.
  • Searle states there is precisely one human intentional activity that underlies all of social reality: Humans have the capacity to impose functions on objects and people where the objects and the people cannot perform the functions solely in virtue of their physical structure. [E.g. a five-dollar bill can’t be physically transformed into a grande latte.] The performance of the function requires that there be a collectively recognized status that the person or object has, and it is only in virtue of that status that the person or object can perform the function in question.
  • From my studies I understand the discourse that social reality is created and only ever meaningful in the realm of mankind; where man is the centre point, for both these philosophers.
  • For Searle the question is, “How can we show how our self-conception is not just consistent with, but is in in fact a natural consequence of what we know about the reality as described by physics and chemistry and other hard sciences? How do we get from protons to presidents and from electrons to elections? The human reality is based on, and in a sense we need to explain, composed of, the basic reality. We need an account that shows how human aspects of reality grow naturally out of the brute physical aspects of reality.” (Searle pdf)
  • Emerson discovers the freedom of thought and ideas and being an individual and he explores this throughout his life in his writings and lectures.
  • HIs transcendentalism finds its meaning that ideas and things co exists. All originates from and expands in God.
  • For Emerson, nature is not God but the body of God’s soul—”nature,” he writes, is “mind precipitated.”In his revised lecture on Nature a few years later, he ends of with these words: “Every moment instructs, and every object; for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after a long time.”
  • I think he saw nature as a whole – a unified whole where interrelationships is a natural process, he could not go with science’s attempts of perfect predictions, he felt comfortable with natures waywardness and our helplessness in this chain of causes that influence our lives.   If identity is not essential, but circumstantial and impersonal, as Emerson believed; what are we to make of our sense of belonging to collective identities?
  • In The Construction of Social Reality (1995), Searle explains institutional reality with a set of four fundamental concepts:—collective intentionality, the imposition of function, Status Functions, and Constitutive Rules.  These are firstly the ability to cooperate: to have collective intentionality, and secondly, the ability to impose functions on objects where the function is the result of the imposition of a certain kind of intentionality on the object. These two features—collective intentionality and the imposition of function—are not unique to the human species.  He explains one sees this in nature, beaver dams and birds’ nests are also the imposition of functions on objects, and such functions are typically the result of collective activities, of collective intentionality.
  • But “a remarkable thing about human beings,  is that they have a capacity to impose a special kind of function on objects, which I call a “Status Function”.” writes Searle.   A Status Function is a function that can be performed only in virtue of the fact that there is a collective acceptance of the object as having a certain type of status, and with that status goes a function that can be performed only to the extent that the status is collectively accepted.  We create a property of money, government, property, marriage, universities, cocktail parties, income tax, and philosophical conferences. All of those are created by repeated applications of representations that have the logical form that  described, and Searle call them status-function declarations.   All of these are Status Functions, in that they are not functions that can be performed solely in virtue of the physics of the object, but they require a certain status and a certain collective acceptance of that status -many functions of objects can be performed solely in virtue of physical structure – like money.
  • He then goes on and state that all of human institutional reality is created in its initial form by a certain type of linguistic representation that has the same logical structure as Declarations and as these create Status Functions,  and he calls them Status Function Declarations.
  • Searle maintains that institutional reality is maintained in its continuing existence by Status Function Declarations to create power.  Here is another of his explanations on this view: “this is money, really is money—but it’s a natural consequence of our biological structure, given language: we create a reality, and this is the reality of human civilization. We create a property of money, government, property, marriage, universities, cocktail parties, income tax, and philosophical conferences.
  • All of those are created by repeated applications of representations that have the logical form as described, and that he calls status-function declarations.

Where do their views overlap and where do they differ?

address this exercise by using three columns – one for each author either side of a column of similarities.  The differences will be those points that are not similarities.


References for this exercise

Brewton, Vince, Ralph Waldo Emerson, IEP  (ISSN 2161-0002) online ( Peer reviewed article)

Emerson, Ralph Waldo The Naturalist and the Poet  7 May 1934

Fosnot, Catherine Tworrey,  2005   Constructivism: Theory Perspectives, and practice, Second Edition, Teachers College Press, pdf downloaded

Sheldon W Liebman, American Literature, Oxford Research Encyclopedia Literature, Oxford University Press USA, 2017, (oxfordre.com/literature, online publication date: Jul 2017). Pages 1 – 23, downloaded on 07 January 2019

Searl, John,  2012 Human Social Reality and Language, PKP PDF online accessed pages 1 – 38.

Searle, John R, 1995 The Construction of Social Reality, Penguin Books, London( ISBN:978-0-14-193317-7) Kindle Book Searle,

Sontag, Susan 1979 On Photography, Kindle Edition

Smithsoninan website  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/still-ahead-of-his-time-82186396/#2t9JtOvwebhJSiWv.99

Whitman Walt, 2014 Specimen Days and Collect, Melville House Publishing, Brooklyn NY (originally published by Reed Welsh & Co., Philadelphia, 1882

Lippmann Walter, 1922, Public Opinion, Kindle Edition

My tutor commented that this exercise was handled well!

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