File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0011, message 64

Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2000 07:41:42 -0800
Subject: HAB: What are institutions?

Now might be a good time to send in a question I have had on my mind for
a while.

In his essay, 'Comments on John Searle: "Meaning communication, and
representation'" (in Searle and his critics, pp. 17-29; the essay is
reprinted in the volume edited by M. Cooke), Habermas asserts (in the
context of a critique of Searle's account of performatives) that
"Language, however, is an institution only in a metaphorical sense" (p.

In Searle and his critics (pp. 89-96) Searle responds to Habermas (the
reply is not mentioned in the Habermas volume).  (I find the response
persuasive on a number of points.)  Specifically, however, here is
Searle's reply on the matter of institutions: "Finally, when he says in
objecting to my account of performatives, that language is not a human
institution, I really cannot imagine why he or anyone else would say
that.  On just about any definition of 'institution,' language is a
paradigm, perhaps the paradigm of a human institution.  If he wants to
deny this, surely the onus is on him to provide an argument." (p. 96).

I think Searle exaggerates the strength of his own position here, but
basically I agree that language is a paradigm of human institutions (in
other words, I mostly accept Searle's naturalistic account of
institutions given in Construction of Social Reality).  My
question--questions, really--are these: Why does Habermas think language
is not literally a human institution?  What is Habermas's definition or
his paradigm of a human institution?  What accounts of human
institutions actually support Searle's position?  Is Habermas's position
distinctively his, or are there accounts of institutions that agree with
him (which Searle should acknowledge)?

Bill Hord
Houston, TX, USA

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