Social ontology and cultural sociology. A appraisal and critique of John Searle's social theory
Sociology Universität Konstanz Konstanz, Germany
The logical analysis of social reality by the philosopher and speech act theorist John Searle is a rich source for sociologists. The concept of collective intentionality, the distinction between constitutive and regulative rules, but also the role of declarations in the making of institutions belong to the most interesting features of his social ontology. My paper focuses on his idea of the background that has to be presupposed by any kind of intentionality, rule-following or speech act. His argument can be used to criticize utilitarian and normativist approaches in classical and contemporary sociology. Searle also provides a neurophysiological interpretation of this background. His interpretation is not only positivistically flawed, but renders also the concept of the background useless for empirical research in social sciences. Instead I will propose a cultural sociological interpretation of the background consisting of cultural forms like myths, narratives and imaginaries. This enables us to turn the background into a explanatory tool for social and cultural change. Such a research program requires and enables the use of different theories and methods from various disciplines, for example narrative theory from literary studies and iconology from art history. I will show the fruitfulness of such an approach with a case study on torture in the War on Terror. I will show that 9/11 had an impact on the cultural background that consequently changed the interpretation of the prohibition of torture. The ticking bomb scenario became plausible and torture at least debatable. This changed only with the Abu Ghraib photographs, were torturers were depicted at sadists and prisoners as helpless victims. At the end we will see that the analysis of cultural forms is able provide an explanation for recent changes in the modern moral order.