Conference of the European Network on Social Ontology edition:4 location:Palermo date:24-26 September 2015
Ruben recently criticized Searle’s constructivist account of institutional reality for failing to offer an alternative to the classical choices of eliminativism, reductionism, irrealism and emergence. This paper presents another option, namely a gradualist account enabled by pandispositional realism. The problem of different levels or layers of reality and the relations between them can thereby be avoided, while at the same time giving a thoroughly realist account of institutional reality.
Barry Smith has also criticized Searle’s basic metaphysical position in a longstanding debate over free-standing Y-terms, advocating the need for a ‘realm of the quasi-abstract’. He claims Searle cannot give both a realist account of things like blind chess or debts, while maintaining his naturalist position. On the other hand, his realm of the quasi-abstract faces all the problems Searle wants to avoid with his naturalistic one-world requirement.
The upshot of a gradualist powers-based account of institutional reality is that the picture of different levels of reality is dropped in favor of a continuum. Powers and dispositions are taken as real, always already present and merely awaiting their manifestation. Everything the emergentist might want is thereby already built-in at the basic level. There are no levels of reality hence also no problem of how they are supposed to relate or interact. It is just that certain concatenations of particles, as might be expected, can manifest special, seemingly new dispositions which in turn can be the mutual disposition partner for yet further, iterated manifestations.
The kind of deontic powers that are key to Searle's account of institutions are thereby simply yet another kind of power, one that happens to become manifest when bringing together as mutual disposition partners a certain kind of animal equipped with linguistic capacities and collective intentionality.
Take a game of blind chess. That game depends on both players as disposition partners, it is ontologically subjective as Searle would put it, and epistemically objective. And yet, as Smith stresses, the game is not merely 'in their head', for these are just representations of the game. The question is, what are these representations representations of? What are their truthmakers? The answer is that a game of blind chess is a real dispositional structure or power-net. That dispositional structure is what the players can have representations of. This dispositional structure includes the whole game-tree of that token game of chess.
The borders of that game-tree are set by the rules of chess. Both players have the disposition to adhere to them and to criticize the other one should he or she fail to do so. This holds for a normal game of chess just as much as for a game of blind chess. The only difference between the two is the extent to which this dispositional structure and its evolution through time is made manifest in wooden pieces on a board, but this doesn't affect the ontology of a game of chess itself.