Unwittingly Recapitulating Freud: Searle's Concept of a Vocabulary of the Unconscious

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This paper aims to show that the pivotal notion in John Searle's account of the unconscious, despite his representation of Freud's position, is found in Freud's work as part of a very similar view of the issues surrounding the concept of the unconscious. The pivotal notion in question consists in treating the concept of the unconscious as a vocabulary without ontological commitment which Searle claims we must do for the following reason: to reconcile what he considers to be the dualistic concept of the unconscious with an ontology of the mental which recognises no states but conscious states and states of the neurophysiology with the capacity to cause them. The role of the concept in Searle's account is explained. Then his representation of Freud is challenged: firstly, by explicating how Freud accepted that the concept of the unconscious entailed no ontological commitment and, secondly, by showing how this fitted into his wider thinking on how the concept of the unconscious could be understood in terms of a vocabulary, leading ultimately to a justification of the concept of the unconscious in terms of explanatory power. On the basis of this exposition, Searle's charge of dualism against Freud is disputed

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Trinity College, Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland

Publication date: March 1, 1999

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