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Now that, I think, is a continuation of the Enlightenment project. We want a unified account of our knowledge, and I think we can get it.
Reason: While the approach is different, the intention isn't that different from something like E.O. Wilson's Consilience, trying to unify all knowledge into a single structure.
Searle: Right. I don't agree with the details, but he's certainly somebody whom I would think of as sharing my overall objectives.
Reason: So would you say that the same unity would be true of facts and values? Or are you more of a Humean?
Searle: What I'm doing now in my book on rationality is to try to show how we shouldn't be thinking in terms of ethics vs. science. We ought to think of what we call ethics as a branch of practical reasoning--how the conscious, intentional organism reasons about what to do, particularly if the organism's got a language. If you think of it that way, then the traditional debates between ethics and science seem kind of irrelevant.
I'm not attacking the traditional philosophical problem head-on, because I think that gets us nowhere. I'm trying to show that there's a different way of looking at these issues, about the relation of the individual and culture, about the relation of biology and culture, the relation between the mind and the body. And if you look at it from this different point of view, then it seems to me you get different and more truthful results.
Now this carries over to political philosophy. It seems to me that we don't have what I would call a political philosophy from the middle distance. Let me give you an example. It seems to me the leading sociopolitical event of the 20th century was the failure of socialism. Now that's an amazing phenomenon if you think about it, because in the middle years of this century, clever people thought there was no way capitalism could survive. When I was an undergraduate at Oxford in the 1950s, the conventional wisdom was that capitalism, because it is so inefficient and so stupid, because there's not a controlling intelligence behind it, cannot in the long run compete with an intelligently planned economy.
It's hard today to recover how widely that view was held among serious intellectuals. Very intelligent people thought that in the long run capitalism was doomed, and some kind of socialism was our future. Some people thought it was Marxist socialism, and other people thought we were going to have democratic socialism, but somehow or another it had to be socialism.
Where is it today? It's dead. Even the European socialist parties, though they still keep the names, are adopting various versions of capitalist welfare states. I would like an intelligent analysis of this, and I can't find it.
Reason: You mean why people believed it?
Searle: Why it failed. Why did that belief die so spectacularly? I'm not convinced that we even have the apparatus necessary to pose an answer to the question. I think we need a conceptual improvement, and it would be piecemeal. It would be like the additions that Max Weber made when he introduced notions like rationalization, charisma, and all the rest of it.
Reason: Along these lines, you wrote an article for a German paper in which you said that Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was the "book of the century."
Searle: Like every other undergraduate of my generation, when Hayek's book came out, I found it was treated as an object of ridicule. I remember a professor of economics saying, "Hayek is the last of the Mohicans of the classical economists. He's the last one left, holding this absurd view that's long since been refuted."
As a result, I never read the book when I was a student, but many, many years later, I sat down and read it, and it seems to me a remarkable book to have written in 1944. It's a kind of a prophetic book. If we're going to talk about the failure of socialism, an awful lot of the failures had to do with exactly what Hayek predicted. It would be interesting for somebody to analyze in a more scholarly vein to what extent he was right: that there wasn't any halfway point of democratic socialism, that it would naturally collapse into various forms of oppression, that however well-intentioned the setting up of the socialist bureaucracy was, it would be bound to have calamitous effects.
So I was asked by this very prestigious German magazine--it's a weekly newspaper really, Die Zeit --what was the book of the century. Of course, there are a lot of books that I admire, but many were already taken by others, and I couldn't pick Joyce's Ulysses, for instance. So I fastened onto Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and wrote an article [about] why I thought that was, if not the book of the century, certainly among the books of the century.