Realism, biologism and 'the background'

Philosophical Explorations 7 (2):149 – 166 (2004)
Abstract
John Searle claims that intentional states require a set of non-intentional background capacities in order to function. He insists that this 'Background' should be construed naturalistically, in terms of the causal properties of biological brains. This paper examines the relationship between Searle's conception of the Background and his commitment to biological naturalism. It is first observed that the arguments Searle ventures in support of the Background's existence do not entail a naturalistic interpretation. Searle's claim that external realism is part of the Background is then addressed. It is shown that this claim implies an implicit understanding of reality, which is presupposed by the intelligibility of any objective, scientific description. As a consequence, Searle's account of the Background's role is incompatible with his insistence that it can be comprehensively characterized in terms of biological capacities. I conclude by showing that, if the tension is resolved by rejecting biological naturalism, Searle's position takes a substantial step in the direction of Heideggerian phenomenology, a move Searle has emphatically resisted in his various exchanges with Hubert Dreyfus.
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