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Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays Paperback – December 4, 2008
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"Needless to say, Searle is one of the most prominent contemporary philosophers and his writings are almost always highly stimulating. For those willing to have a first contact with Searle's thought, Philosophy in a New Century will offer an excellent introduction; and for those already familiar with his philosophy, it will surely constitute a comprehensive ... volume [with which] to revisit his entire work."
Marcos Breuer, Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy
John Searle has made profoundly influential contributions to three areas of philosophy: philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of society. This volume gathers together in accessible form a selection of his essays in these areas, and will be valuable for all who are interested in Searle's work.
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"Now if it is not the causal connections which we are concerned with, then the activities of the mind lie open before us." Wittgenstein "The Blue Book" p6 (1933)
"Nonsense, Nonsense, because you are making assumptions instead of simply describing. If your head is haunted by explanations here, you are neglecting to remind yourself of the most important facts." Wittgenstein Z 220
"Philosophy simply puts everything before us and neither explains nor deduces anything...One might give the name `philosophy' to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions." Wittgenstein PI 126
"What we are supplying are really remarks on the natural history of man, not curiosities; however, but rather observations on facts which no one has doubted and which have only gone unremarked because they are always before our eyes." Wittgenstein RFM I p142
"The aim of philosophy is to erect a wall at the point where language stops anyway." Wittgenstein Philosophical Occasions p187
"The greatest danger here is wanting to observe oneself." LWPP1, 459
"The limit of language is shown by its being impossible to describe a fact which corresponds to (is the translation of) a sentence without simply repeating the sentence (this has to do with the Kantian solution to the problem of philosophy)." Wittgenstein CV p10 (1931)
"Could a machine process cause a thought process? The answer is: yes. Indeed only a machine process can cause a thought process, and `computation' does not name a machine process; it names a process that can be, and typically is, implemented on a machine." Searle PNC p73
"...the characterization of a process as computational is a characterization of a physical system from outside; and the identification of the process as computational does not identify an intrinsic feature of the physics, it is essentially an observer relative characterization." Searle PNC p95
"The Chinese Room Argument showed that semantics is not intrinsic to syntax. I am now making the separate and different point that syntax is not intrinsic to physics." Searle PNC p94
"The attempt to eliminate the homunculus fallacy through recursive decomposition fails, because the only way to get the syntax intrinsic to the physics is to put a homunculus in the physics." Searle PNC p97
"But you cannot explain a physical system such as a typewriter or a brain by identifying a pattern which it shares with its computational simulation, because the existence of the pattern does not explain how the system actually works as a physical system. ...In sum, the fact that the attribution of syntax identifies no further causal powers is fatal to the claim that programs provide causal explanations of cognition... There is just a physical mechanism, the brain, with its various real physical and physical/mental causal levels of description." Searle PNC p101-103
"In short, the sense of `information processing' that is used in cognitive science is at much too high a level of abstraction to capture the concrete biological reality of intrinsic intentionality...We are blinded to this difference by the fact that the same sentence `I see a car coming toward me,' can be used to record both the visual intentionality and the output of the computational model of vision...in the sense of `information' used in cognitive science, it is simply false to say that the brain is an information processing device." Searle PNC p104-105
"Can there be reasons for action which are binding on a rational agent just in virtue of the nature of the fact reported in the reason statement, and independently of the agent's desires, values, attitudes and evaluations?...The real paradox of the traditional discussion is that it tries to pose Hume's guillotine, the rigid fact-value distinction, in a vocabulary, the use of which already presupposes the falsity of the distinction." Searle PNC p165-171
"...all status functions and hence all of institutional reality, with the exception of language, are created by speech acts that have the logical form of Declarations...the forms of the status function in question are almost invariably matters of deontic powers...to recognize something as a right, duty, obligation, requirement and so on is to recognize a reason for action...these deontic structures make possible desire-independent reasons for action...The general point is very clear: the creation of the general field of desire-based reasons for action presupposed the acceptance of a system of desire-independent reasons for action." Searle PNC p34-49
"Some of the most important logical features of intentionality are beyond the reach of phenomenology because they have no immediate phenomenological reality... Because the creation of meaningfulness out of meaninglessness is not consciously experienced...it does not exist...This is... the phenomenological illusion." Searle PNC p115-117
"Consciousness is causally reducible to brain processes...and consciousness has no causal powers of its own in addition to the causal powers of the underlying neurobiology...But causal reducibility does not lead to ontological reducibility...consciousness only exists as experienced...and therefore it cannot be reduced to something that has a third person ontology, something that exists independently of experiences." Searle PNC 155-6
"...the basic intentional relation between the mind and the world has to do with conditions of satisfaction. And a proposition is anything at all that can stand in an intentional relation to the world, and since those intentional relations always determine conditions of satisfaction, and a proposition is defined as anything sufficient to determine conditions of satisfactions, it turns out that all intentionality is a matter of propositions." Searle PNC p193
Before commenting in detail on Philosophy in a New Century (PNC) I will first offer some comments on philosophy (descriptive psychology) and its relationship to contemporary psychological research as exemplified in the works of Searle (S) and Wittgenstein (W), since I feel that this is the best way to place Searle or any commentator on behavior, in proper perspective.
To say that Searle has carried on W's work is not to say that it is a direct result of W study, but rather that because there is only ONE human psychology (for the same reason there is only ONE human cardiology), that anyone accurately describing behavior must be voicing some variant or extension of what W said (as they must if they are both giving correct descriptions of behavior). I find most of S foreshadowed in W, including versions of the famous Chinese room argument against Strong AI and related issues which are the subjects of Chaps 3-5. Incidentally, if the Chinese Room interests you then you should read Victor Rodych's xlnt ,but virtually unknown, supplement on the CR--"Searle Freed of Every Flaw."
S makes no reference to W's prescient statement of mind as mechanism in TLP, and his destruction of it in his later work. Since W, S has become the principal deconstructor of these mechanical views of behavior, and the most important descriptive psychologist (philosopher), but does not realize how completely W anticipated him nor, by and large, do others (but see the many papers and books of Proudfoot and Copeland on W, Turing and AI). S's work is vastly easier to follow than W's, and though there is some jargon, it is mostly spectacularly clear if you approach it from the right direction. See my reviews of W and other books for more details.
Wittgenstein is for me easily the most brilliant thinker on human behavior. His work as a whole shows that all behavior is an extension of innate true-only axioms and that our conscious ratiocination (System 2)(S2) emerges from unconscious machinations (System 1)(S1). See "On Certainty"(OC) for his final extended treatment of this idea-and my review thereof for preparation. His corpus can be seen as the foundation for all description of animal behavior, revealing how the mind works and indeed must work. The "must" is entailed by the fact that all brains share a common ancestry and common genes and so there is only one basic way they work, that this necessarily has an axiomatic structure, that all higher animals share the same evolved psychology based on inclusive fitness, and that in humans this is extended into a personality (a cognitive or phenomenological illusion) based on throat muscle contractions (language) that evolved to manipulate others (with variations that can be regarded as trivial).
Arguably, all of W's and S's work is a development of or variation on these ideas. Another major theme here, and of course in all discussion of human behavior, is the need to separate the genetically programmed automatisms, which underlie all behavior, from the effects of culture. Though few philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists etc., explicitly discuss this in a comprehensive way, it can be seen as the major problem they are dealing with. I suggest it will prove of the greatest value to consider all study of higher order behavior as an effort to tease apart not only fast and slow thinking (e.g., perceptions and other automatisms vs. dispositions- S1 and S2--see below), but nature and nurture.
What W laid out in his final period (and throughout his earlier work in a less clear way) are the foundations of evolutionary psychology (EP), or if you prefer, psychology, cognitive linguistics, intentionality, higher order thought or just animal behavior. Sadly, almost nobody seems to realize that his works are a unique textbook of descriptive psychology that is as relevant now as the day it was written. He is almost universally ignored by psychology and other behavioral sciences and humanities, and even those few who have more or less understood him, have not realized the extent of his anticipation of the latest work on EP and
cognitive illusions (Theory of Mind, framing, the two selves of fast and slow thinking etc.,--see below). Searle's work as a whole provides a stunning description of higher order social behavior that is possible because of the recent evolution of genes for dispositional psychology, while the later W shows how it is based on true only unconscious axioms of S1 which evolved into conscious dispositional propositional thinking of S2.
Long before Searle, W rejected the idea that the Bottom Up approaches of physiology, experimental psychology and computation (e.g., Behaviorism, Functionalism, Strong AI, DST, CTM, etc.) could reveal what his Top Down deconstructions of Language Games (LG's) did. The principal difficulties he noted are to understand what is always in front of our eyes (we can now see this as obliviousness to System 1 (roughly what S calls `the phenomenological illusion') and to capture vagueness ("The greatest difficulty in these investigations is to find a way of representing vagueness" LWPP1, 347).
As with his other aphorisms, I suggest one should take seriously W's comment that even if God could look into our mind he could not see what we are thinking--this should be the
motto of the Embodied Mind and, as S makes clear, of Cognitive Psychology. But God could see what we are perceiving and remembering and our reflexive thinking, since these S1 functions are always causal mental states while S2 dispositions are only potentially CMS. This is not a theory but a fact about our grammar and our physiology. S muddies the waters here because he refers to dispositions as mental states as well, but as W did long ago, he shows that the language of causality just does not apply to the higher order emergent S2 descriptions--again not a theory but a description about how language (thinking) works.
This brings up another point that is prominent in W but denied by S, that all we can do is give descriptions and not a theory. S insists he is providing theories but of course "theory" and "description" are language games too and it seems to me S's theory is usually W's description--a rose by any other name.... W's point was that by sticking to perspicacious examples that we all know to be true accounts of our behavior, we avoid the quicksand of theories that try to account for ALL behavior (ALL language games), while S wants to generalize and inevitably goes astray (he gives several examples of his own mistakes in PNC). As S and others endlessly modify their theories to account for the multifarious language games they get closer and closer to describing behavior by way of numerous examples as did W.
Some of W's favorite topics in his later second and his third periods are the different (but interdigitating) LG's of fast and slow thinking (System 1 and 2 or roughly Primary Language Games (PLG's) and Secondary Language Games (SLG's) of the Inner and the Outer--see e.g., Johnston-`Wittgenstein: Rethinking the Inner' on how confusing the two is a major industry in philosophy and psychology), the impossibility of private language and the axiomatic structure of all behavior. Verbs like `thinking', `seeing' first described S1 functions but as S2 evolved they came to be applied to it as well, leading to the whole mythology of inner resulting from e.g., trying to refer to imagining as if it were seeing pictures inside the brain. The PLG's are utterances by and descriptions of our involuntary, System 1, fast thinking, mirror neuron, true only, nonpropositional, mental states- our perceptions and memories and involuntary acts (including System 1 Truths and UOA1 (Understanding of Agency 1) and Emotions1- such as joy, love, anger) which can be described causally, while the evolutionarily later SLG's are expressions or descriptions of voluntary, System 2, slow thinking, mentalizing neurons, testable true or false, propositional, Truth2 and UOA2 and Emotions2- joyfulness, loving, hating, the dispositional (and often counterfactual) imagining, supposing, intending, thinking, knowing, believing, etc. which can only be described in terms of reasons (i.e., it's just a fact that attempts to describe System 2 in terms of neurochemistry, atomic physics, mathematics, just make no sense--see W for many examples and Searle for good disquisitions on this).
It is not possible to describe the automatisms of System 1 in terms of reasons (e.g., `I see that as an apple because...') unless you want to give a reason in terms of EP, genetics, physiology, and as W has demonstrated repeatedly it is meaningless to give "explanations" with the proviso that they will make sense in the future--`Nothing is hidden'--they make sense now or never.
A powerful heuristic is to separate behavior and experience into Intentionality 1 and Intentionality 2 (e.g., Thinking 1 and Thinking 2, Emotions 1 and Emotions 2 etc.) and even into Truths 1 (T only axioms) and Truths 2 (empirical extensions or "Theorems" which result from the logical extension of Truths 1). W recognized that `Nothing is Hidden'--i.e., our whole psychology and all the answers to all philosophical questions are here in our language (our life) and that the difficulty is not to find the answers but to recognize them as always here in front of us--we just have to stop trying to look deeper.
FMRI, PET, TCMS, iRNA, computational analogs, AI and all the rest are fascinating and powerful ways to extend our innate axiomatic psychology, to provide the physical basis for our behavior and facilitate our analysis of language games which nevertheless remain unexplainable--EP just is this way-- and unchanged. The true-only axioms, most thoroughly explored in 'On Certainty', are W's (and later Searle's) "bedrock" or "background" i.e., evolutionary psychology, which are traceable to the automated true-only reactions of bacteria and their descendants (e.g., humans), which evolved and operate by the mechanism of inclusive fitness (IF)--see Bourke's superb "Principles of Social Evolution".
W insisted that we should regard our analysis of behavior as descriptions rather than
explanations, but of course these too are complex language games and one person's description is another's explanation. Beginning with their innate true-only, nonempirical (automated and nonchangeable) responses to the world, animals extend their axiomatic understanding via deductions into further true only understandings ("theorems" as we might call them, but this is a complex language game even in the context of mathematics). Tyrannosaurs and mesons become as unchallengeable as the existence of our two hands or our breathing. This dramatically changes ones view of human nature. Theory of Mind (TOM) is not a theory at all but a group of true-only Understandings of Agency (UOA a term I devised 10 years ago) which newborn animals (including flies and worms if UOA is suitably defined) have and subsequently extend greatly (in higher eukaryotes). However, as I note here, W made it very clear that for much of intentionality there are System 1 and System 2 versions (language games)-the fast unconscious UOA1 and the Slow conscious UOA2 and of course these are heuristics for multifaceted phenomena. Although the raw material for S2 is S1, S2 also feeds back into S1-- higher cortical feedback to the lowest levels of perception, memory, reflexive thinking that is a fundamental of psychology. Many of W's examples explore this two way street (e.g., see the discussions of the duck/rabbit and `seeing as' in Johnston).
I think it is clear that the innate true-only axioms W is occupied with throughout his work, and almost exclusively in OC (his last work `On Certainty'), are equivalent to the fast thinking or System 1 that is at the center of current research (e.g., see Kahneman--"Thinking Fast and Slow", but he has no idea W laid out the framework some 75 years ago), which is involuntary and unconscious and which corresponds to the mental states of perception (including UOA1) and memory and involuntary acts, as W notes over and over in endless examples. One might call these "intracerebral reflexes"(maybe 99% of all our cerebration if measured by energy use in the brain).
Our slow or reflective, more or less "conscious" (beware another network of language games!) second-self brain activity corresponds to what W characterized as "dispositions" or "inclinations", which refer to abilities or possible actions, are not mental states (or not in the same sense), and do not have any definite time of occurrence and/or duration. But disposition words like "knowing", "understanding", "thinking", "believing", which W discussed extensively, have at least two basic uses. One is a peculiar philosophical use (but graduating into everyday uses) exemplified by Moore (whose papers inspired W to write OC), which refers to the true-only sentences resulting from direct perceptions and memory, i.e., our innate axiomatic S1 psychology (`I know these are my hands'), and the S2 one, which is their normal use as dispositions, which can be acted out, and which can become true or false (`I know my way home').
The investigation of involuntary fast thinking has revolutionized psychology, economics (e.g., Kahneman's Nobel prize) and other disciplines under names like "cognitive illusions", "priming", "framing", "heuristics" and "biases". Of course these too are language games so there will be more and less useful ways to use these words, and studies and discussions will vary from "pure" System 1 to combinations of 1 and 2 (the norm as W made clear), but presumably not ever of slow System 2 dispositional thinking only, since any System 2 thought or intentional action cannot occur without involving much of the intricate network of "cognitive modules", "inference engines", "intracerebral reflexes", "automatisms", "cognitive axioms", "background" or "bedrock" (as W and later Searle call our EP).
Finally, let me suggest that with this perspective, W is not obscure, difficult or irrelevant but scintillating, profound and crystal clear, that he writes aphoristically and telegraphically because we think and behave that way, and that to miss him is to miss one of the greatest intellectual adventures possible.
Now for some comments on Searle's PNC.
The essays here are mostly already published during the last decade (though some have been updated), along with one unpublished item, and nothing here will come as a surprise to those who have kept up with his work. Like W, he is regarded as the best standup philosopher of his time and his written work is solid as a rock and groundbreaking throughout. However his failure to take the later W seriously enough leads to some mistakes and confusions. On p7 he twice notes that our certainty about basic facts is due to the overwhelming weight of reason supporting our claims, but W showed definitively in `On Certainty' that there is no possibility of doubting the true-only axiomatic structure of our System 1 perceptions, memories and thoughts, since it is itself the basis for judgment and cannot itself be judged. In the first sentence on p8 he tells us that certainty is revisable, but this kind of `certainty', which we might call Certainty2, is the result of extending our axiomatic and nonrevisable certainty (Certainty1) via experience and is utterly different as it is propositional (true or false). This is of course a classic example of the "battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by language" which W demonstrated over and over again. One word- two (or many) distinct uses.
On p10 he chastises W for his antipathy to theorizing but as I noted above, `theorizing' is another language game (LG) and there is a vast gulf between a general description of behavior with few well worked out examples and one that emerges from a large number of such that is not subject to many counterexamples. Evolution in its early days was a theory with limited clear examples but soon became just a summary of a vast body of examples and a theory in a quite different sense. Likewise with a theory one might make as a summary of a thousand pages of W's examples and one resulting from ten pages.
Again on p12, `consciousness' is the result of automated System 1 functioning that is `subjective' in several quite different senses, and not, in the normal case, a matter of evidence but a true-only understanding in our own case and a true-only perception in the case of others.
As I read p13 I thought: "Can I be feeling excruciating pain and go on as if nothing is wrong?" No!--this would not be `pain' in the same sense. "The inner experience stands in need of outer criteria"(W) and Searle seems to miss this. See W or Johnston.
As I read the next few pages I felt that W has a much better grasp of the mind/language connection, as he regards them as synonymous in many contexts, and his work is a brilliant exposition of mind as exemplified in numerous perspicacious examples of language use. As quoted above, "Now if it is not the causal connections which we are concerned with, then the activities of the mind lie open before us." And as explained above I feel the questions with which S ends section 3 are largely answered by considering W's OC from the standpoint of the two systems. Likewise for section 6 on the philosophy of science. Rodych has done an article on Popper vs W which I thought superb at the time but I will have to reread it to make sure. Finally, on p25, one can deny that any revision of our concepts (language games) of causation or free will are necessary or even possible. You can read just about any page of W for the reasons. It's one thing to say bizarre things about the world using examples from quantum mechanics, uncertainty etc., but it is another to say anything relevant to our normal use of words.
On p31, 36 etc., we again encounter the incessant problems (in philosophy and life) of identical words glossing over the huge differences in LG's of `belief', `seeing' etc., as applied to S1 which is composed of mental states in the present only, and S2 which is not. The rest of the chapter summarizes his work on `social glue' which, from an EP, Wittgensteinian perspective, is the automatic fast actions of S1 producing the slow dispositions of S2 which are inexorably and universally expanded during personal development into a wide array of automatic unconscious deontic relationships with others, and arbitrarily into cultural variations on them.
Chapters 3 to 5 contain his well-known arguments against the mechanical view of mind which seem to me definitive. I have read whole books of responses to them and I agree with S that they all miss the very simple logical (psychological) points he makes (and which, by and large, W made half a century earlier before there were computers). To put it in my terms, S1 is composed of unconscious, fast, physical, causal, automatic, nonpropositional, true only mental states, while slow S2 can only coherently be described in terms of reasons for actions that are more or less conscious dispositions to behavior (potential actions) that are or can become propositional (T or F). Computers and the rest of nature have only derived intentionality that is dependent on our perspective while higher animals have primary intentionality that is independent of perspective. As S and W appreciate, the great irony is that these materialistic or mechanical reductions of psychology masquerade as cutting edge science, but in fact they are utterly anti-scientific. Philosophy (descriptive psychology) and cognitive psychology (freed of superstition) are becoming hand in glove and it is Hofstadter, Dennett, Kurzweil etc., who are left out in the cold.
Page 62 nicely summarizes one of his arguments but p63 shows that he has still not quite let go of the blank slate as he tries to explain trends in society in terms of the cultural extensions of S2. As he does in many other places in his writings, he gives cultural, historical reasons for behaviorism, but it seems quite obvious to me (as it was to W) that the mechanical view of mind exists for the same reason as nearly all behavior--it is the default operation of our EP which seeks explanations in terms of what we can deliberately think through slowly, rather than in the automated S1, of which we mostly remain oblivious. Again on p65 I find W's description of our axiomatic inherited psychology and its extensions in his OC and other works to be deeper than S's (or anyone's), and so we are NOT `confident' that dogs are conscious, but rather it is not open to doubt.
Chapter 5 nicely demolishes CTM, LOT etc., noting that `computation', `information' , `syntax', `algorithm', `logic', `program', etc., are observer relative (i.e., psychological) terms and have no physical or mathematical meaning in this psychological sense, but of course there are other senses they have been given recently as science has developed. Again, people are bewitched by the use of the same word into ignoring that vast difference in its use (meaning). All extensions of classic Wittgenstein and I recommend Hutto's papers too.
Chapter 6 "The Phenomenological Illusion" (TPI) is by far my favorite, and, while demolishing that field, it shows both his supreme logical abilities and his failure to grasp the full power of both the later W, and the great heuristic value of recent psychological research on the two selves. It is clear as crystal that TPI is due to obliviousness to the automatisms of S1 and to taking the slow conscious thinking of S2 as not only primary but as all there is. This is classic Blank Slate blindness. It is also clear that W showed this some 60 years earlier and also gave the reason for it in the primacy of the true-only unconscious automatic axiomatic network of our innate System 1. Like so many others, Searle dances all around it but never quite gets there. Very roughly, regarding `observer independent' features of the world as S1 and `observer dependent' features as S2 should prove very revealing. As S notes, Heidegger and the others have the ontology exactly backwards, but of course so does almost everyone due to the defaults of their EP.
But the really important thing is that S does not take the next step to realizing that TPI is not just a failing of a few philosophers, but a universal blindness to our EP that is itself built into EP. He actually states this in almost these words at one point, but if he really got it how could he fail to point out its immense implications for the world. With rare exceptions (e.g., the Jaina Tirthankaras going back over 5000 years to the beginnings of the Indus civilization and most recently and remarkably Osho, Buddha, Jesus, Bodhidharma, Da Free John etc., we are all meat puppets stumbling through life on our genetically programmed mission to destroy the earth. Our almost total preoccupation with using the second self S2 personality to indulge the infantile gratifications of S1 is creating Hell On Earth. As with all organisms, it's only about reproduction and accumulating resources therefor. Yes, much noise about Global Warming and the imminent collapse of industrial civilization in the next century, but nothing is likely to stop it. S1 writes the play and S2 acts it out. Dick and Jane just want to play house--this is mommy and this is daddy and this and this and this is baby. Perhaps one could say that TPI is that we are humans and not just another primate.
Chapter 7 on the nature of the self is good but nothing really struck me as new. Chapter 8 on property dualism is much more interesting even though mostly a rehash of his previous work. The last of his opening quotes above sums this up, and of course the insistence on the critical nature of first person ontology is totally Wittgensteinian. The only big blunder I see is his blank slate or (cultural) type of explanation on p 158 for the errors of dualism, when in my view it is clearly another instance of TPI--a mistake which he (and nearly everyone else) has made many times, and repeats on p177 etc., in the otherwise superb Chapter 9. The genes program S1 which (mostly) pulls the strings (contracts the muscles) of the meat puppets via S2. End of story. Again he needs to read my comments on W's OC so he changes the "good reason to believe" at the bottom of p171 and the top of p172 to "knows" (in the true-only sense).
A critical point is made again on p169. "Thus saying something and meaning it involves two conditions of satisfaction. First, the condition of satisfaction that the utterance will be produced, and second, that the utterance itself shall have conditions of satisfaction." One way of regarding this is that the unconscious automatic System 1 activates the higher cortical conscious personality of System 2, bringing about throat muscle contractions which inform others that it sees the world in certain ways, which commit it to potential actions. A huge advance over prelinguistic or protolinguistic interactions in which only gross muscle movements were able to convey very limited information about intentions and S makes a similar point in Chapter 10.
His last chapter "The Unity of the Proposition" (previously unpublished) would also benefit greatly from reading W's "On Certainty" or DMS's two books on OC (see my reviews) as they make clear the difference between true only sentences describing S1 and true or false propositions describing S2. This strikes me as a far superior approach to S's taking S1 perceptions as propositional since they only become T or F after one begins thinking about them in S2. However, his point that propositions permit statements of actual or potential truth and falsity, of past and future and fantasy, and thus provide a huge advance over pre or protolinguistic society, is cogent. As he states it "A proposition is anything at all that can determine a condition of satisfaction...and a condition of satisfaction... is that such and such is the case." Or, one needs to add, that might be or might have been or might be imagined to be the case.
Overall, PNC is a good summary of the many substantial advances over Wittgenstein resulting from S's half century of work, but in my view, W still is unequaled once you grasp what he is saying. Ideally they should be read together: Searle for the clear coherent prose and generalizations, illustrated with W's perspicacious examples and brilliant aphorisms. If I were much younger I would write a book doing exactly that.
Overall this is an excellent collection. The essays are representative of the Searle's work and the quality of writing is characteristically clear and concise. That said, given that all but one of these essays has been previously published prospective readers are advised to check the on-line table of contents prior to purchase.
On a personal note I am a big fan of Searle, and while I disagree with some of his presuppositions his work is extremely readable, rigorous and thought provoking. With regard to the target audience for this book; while some prior familiarity with the subject matter is likely to enhance the reader's enjoyment, Searle provides a relatively accessible entry point into modern analytic philosophy for the non-expert reader. Folks interested in gaining further insight into the subjects discussed in this book may wish to audit some of Searle's course available for free through itunes/UC Berkley.
In summary this is an excellent collection. I highly recommend it for fans of Searle and students interested in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of society and the philosophy of language.