International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 148 4th December 2009


I. 'Lou Salome and Nietzsche' by Matthew Del Nevo

II. 'Coluccio Salutati and the Tyrant' by Marco Cirillo

III. 'Searle's Theory of Social Reality and Some Social Reality' by Xiaoqiang Han

IV. 'The Philo Officer' by Michael Levy



Lou Salome, friend of Nietzsche and author of the first book on his philosophy, understood Nietzsche far better than many subsequent commentators. Matthew Del Nevo's article, originally read to the Sydney Philosophy Cafe, gives us Salome's view of Nietzsche as engaged in a unique spiritual quest to make his life and his philosophy one and the same.

The subject of 'the tyrant' seems rather quaint to modern ears, yet this was a topic of earnest debate during the Renaissance. Marco Cirillo offers an interesting exposition of the book The Tyrant by Coluccio Salutati who was appointed Chancellor of Florence in 1375, putting the case that Coluccio's ideas were in fact ahead of his time.

Xiaoqiang Han's second article for Philosophy Pathways is on the topic of John Searle's theory of collective intentionality. When, if ever, is it true to say that a group of persons or a society, acts or consents to an action with a single unified intention? This question becomes especially problematic when we consider the behaviour of people living under dictatorial regimes, who toe the line only because of the threat of force.

Michael Levy is an inspirational speaker who takes a refreshingly optimistic view of life. I was touched by his poem, 'The Philo Officer' which speaks volumes about those aspects of reality forever beyond the investigating philosopher's words and logic.

Geoffrey Klempner



     Lou Salome (1861-1937)
     Nietzsche (1844-1900)

     The noble soul has reverence for itself.
                          Nietzsche (BGE, 287)[1]

I presume you know a little about Nietzsche. The son of a Lutheran clergyman. His father died when Nietzsche was a boy and thereafter he was brought up in household of women: his mother, his sister, his aunt. At 24, a very young age, he was appointed professor of philology at Basel University. He hero-worshipped Wagner who was like a Father figure to him, and who treated Nietzsche quite like a son. Nietzsche left his position at Basel, at the end of the 1870s, suffering from ill health. His first academic publication, The Birth of Tragedy (1872) had been very poorly received and not the sort of book expected in Professorial circles, at least in the Philology department. The book was more philosophical than philological. While Nietzsche was being quietly side-lined by his University peers, more dramatically, he fell out with Wagner.

By the end of the 1870s his prodigious early success in academia had turned sour. By 1879 Nietzsche was living in boarding houses on the North coast of Italy for health reasons. And yet he regarded himself as a philosopher, and not only that, a great one, with a world-shaking message. But he hardly had any friends and no conventional relationships, let alone a readership. He had written a couple of other short eccentric philosophical works which were disregarded, and unbeknownst to him he had 10 years left to work. In 1889 he would collapse into total insanity from which he would never recover. But in his last decade, the 1880s, living in pensiones, completely isolated and ill, Nietzsche wrote a series of stunning works that changed the face of philosophy. The Gay Science (1882/7), where the death of God is proclaimed; Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883/4) a Scripture for a world in which God is rather an absent presence, than a Supreme Being; Beyond Good and Evil (1886), a moral exhortation to the future of philosophy; The Genealogy of Morals (1887); The Twilight of Idols (1889); Ecce Homo (written in 1888, published 1908), largely about himself; and lastly, The AntiChrist (1888, withheld and published 1895).

Before he went mad Nietzsche was still doing battle with his surrogate father, Wagner, in The Wagner case (1888) and another short work published as Nietzsche contra Wagner (1895). After his death, many of Nietzsche's notes from the 1880s were collected into a volume by his sister, and published under the title, The Will to Power (1901, 1905 2nd enlarged edn.). Nietzsche's philosophy which always has a moral bent or at the very least a moralistic ring, is constellated around attack: on God, on Wagner, on every other worthwhile philosopher and philosophy he can lay his hands on, and an elevation and glorification of his own philosophical prowess. The Sections of Ecce Homo are entitled: Why I Am So Wise; Why I Am So Clever; Why I Write Such Good Books. Even the title of this book Ecce Homo, meaning 'Behold the man!' the words of Pontius Pilate, the man Nietzsche admired most in the New Testament, are words said of Jesus Christ that Nietzsche applied to himself.

Nietzsche's reception has been firstly to reach a much broader readership than any other philosopher of his century or even of several centuries before him, and secondly to divide and confuse all those who have read him. To this day there is no consensus as to what Nietzsche's philosophy is, or what any of his basic doctrines such as 'will to power' or 'the revaluation of all values' or 'the eternal return' even mean, at best there are 'schools of thought' on it -- so it has been hard for evaluation to be anything more than a personal appreciation or deprecation (as the case may be). One thing people do agree on however is that Nietzsche was a great literary stylist of the highest order.

Ironically, and oddly, it is precisely Nietzsche's style that has allowed so many professional academic writers of books and articles on him to completely ignore things that Nietzsche makes a big point of saying and to make him say whatever it is they are saying, or at least to line up with it, as if Nietzsche were somehow, their 'precursor'; but I think this is very far from the case. They do this by attributing ideas of Nietzsche which are completely contrary to their own as 'stylistic' rather than substantial. The Nazis did it by having collections of his sayings that edited out the ones they didn't like. The method is still in vogue. Not that we have edited collections, but our contemporaries instead gloss over, whatever doesn't fit their prejudices, as if it wasn't there. There are some incredible examples of this genre, but here is not the place to go into them.

Lou Salome was born in St. Petersburg of French Huguenot and German descent.[2] She spoke and read in French, German and Russian and had a smattering of other languages, eventually when she was to marry, it was to Carl Andreas a German professor of Oriental languages. These propensities would not be lost on Nietzsche, who had been Professor of Philology at Basle University during the previous decade. Nietzsche met Lou in Rome in May 1882. She was there with her mother, and Nietzsche's best friend Paul Ree who had become infatuated with her. She would have been 21, he would have been 17 years her senior. When she was only 17 years old her private tutor, the local married priest, a man old enough to be her father, fell so madly in love with her that he promised to leave his wife and children. Lou coolly refused him; when eventually she did marry in 1887, she had that same pastor officiate the service. In 1880 Lou's mother took her out of harm's way to Zurich, where the University was the first to open its doors to women. However, the completion of her studies was cut short by signs of tuberculosis and it was this, among other reasons, that led mother and daughter south to Rome, where in May 1882 she was to meet Nietzsche.

First Lou met Paul Ree in literary and intellectual circles in which they moved and Ree urgently beckoned his friend Nietzsche, who was in Italy to come up to Rome, which eventually he did. He had huge moustaches and a Saxony accent. He read aloud to them from The Gay Science, which he was writing. She probably would have heard him read aphorism 125, The Madman, in which the event of the death of God is dramatically proclaimed. For the first time in his life, Nietzsche fell in love. Now both men were in love with the girl! Ree wanted to marry Lou -- Lou said she didn't believe in marriage; Nietzsche would propose to her at least twice, but she would refuse both of them and want just to be intellectual companions. Salome advocated a three-way relationship between them.

By May Mrs Salome was finding Rome too hot and wanted them to wend their way back via Switzerland and Germany to Russia. The two men followed. En route, Nietzsche found perfect romantic moments to propose to Lou, but to no avail. The meanderings of the three of them, occasionally altogether, often all apart, often just two of them, either Nietzsche or Ree, continued until October in Leipzig. The famous photo of the so-called 'Holy Trinity', Lou holding the whip, was taken in Lucerne. Leipzig was the last time Nietzsche saw Lou. She and Ree started living together, her mother went on to Russia by herself and Lou moved in with Ree to a flat in Berlin. In 1886 Carl Andreas came on the scene and stole Lou away from Ree. Against her principles Lou married Carl Andreas, but she never consented to have sex with him. They had a childless marriage and carried on sexual affairs outside the marriage, at least Lou did, one only assumes Carl did, but he may not have done. Ree became a doctor eventually, but was depressive and died tragically on a mountain hike in 1901.

We have Nietzsche's word, one of the greatest European intellectuals of the nineteenth century, that he considered Lou his equal. Rilke and Freud, two other men of genius, will say much the same when their turn comes to enter her life.

In her lifetime, Lou wrote about 15 books, some novels, some on the more academic side. Her book on Nietzsche is probably the first book about him. She wrote it before The AntiChrist or Ecce Homo or The Will to Power were published. But she had known him and he had loved her. Her book was published in 1894. In her memoirs, written in her 70s, in the 1930s she admits to not fully understanding Nietzsche until after their break-up 50 years previously, and the subsequent study of his works,[3] which she was among the first to read. She says in her memoir, looking back on Nietzsche and that time, 'The will of the times transformed the exactitude of logic into a psychology with its own exactitude.'[4]

The 'exactitude of logic' would have been that of Kant and the Kantians, and of Hegel and the Hegelians, those of the left and those of the right, each with their version of the Wissenschaft der Logik and its ruthless dialectic. Lou speaks of the will of the times transforming such logic 'into a psychology' with its own exactitude; and this is how, in a nutshell she places Nietzsche. For Nietzsche, the life of the philosopher parallels his philosophy,[5] and when you put the two side by side (the philosopher and the philosophy), Nietzsche doesn't think a powerful philosophy can be produced by an insipid life; for this reason Nietzsche doesn't think philosophy produced by professional paid academic philosophers is even worth mentioning or reading for the most part. He only mentions the very greatest names, and then will not read their philosophy in abstraction from their biography.

Walter Kaufmann in his landmark study of Nietzsche calls him 'psychologist', but in a special sense, as what he might call a 'moral' psychologist. Today we think of psychology as a 'science' or as 'therapy', but if we can capture something worth saying by calling Nietzsche a moral psychologist, what we refer to is his ability to 'diagnose' philosophy and philosophers; much of Nietzsche's thought is not Kritik, but diagnostics; he teases out what makes the soul sick, what makes philosophy sick therefore, and what makes culture and society sick as a result. The sicknesses Nietzsche diagnoses are all to do, in one way or another, with a lack of integrity.[6] And the measure of integrity for Nietzsche is life in the fullest possible sense where all our creative juices are running and all our creative capacities at full flight. If we think of Nietzsche like this (and this is just my own view) then we can legitimately say, I think, that his writing is in line with his life, because of the extraordinary creativity in his work.

I want to now turn to Lou's Nietzsche book. We can't discuss the whole book, so I'm going to make 3 main points. These points, or headings, frame Lou's view of Nietzsche. But I believe these three points are good orientations into reading Nietzsche, especially given, as I've said, that confusion about his philosophy reigns.

1. The thinker and the thought (biography and philosophy)

Lou Salome:

     If the task of the biographer is to explicate the thinker
     through his person, it applies in an unusual degree to
     Nietzsche because external intellectual work and a picture
     of his inner life coalesce completely. What he says in the
     'prefatory' letter [Lou used a letter to her from Nietzsche
     as her Preface] about philosophers is pertinent to himself;
     one should test their systems against their personal
     actions. Later, he expressed the same concept: 'Gradually,
     it has become clear to me that every great philosophy up to
     the present has been the personal confession of its author
     and a form of involuntary and unperceived memoir
     (BGE, 6; N.p.4 [my emphasis added]).
She says,

     And so we must direct our attention to the human being and
     not the theorist in order to find a way in Nietzsche's
     works. In that sense, our contemplation will not gain a new
     theoretical world picture [as in Kant or Hegel I would add]
     but the picture of the human soul in all its greatness and
(N. p.29 [my emphasis added]).
So with Nietzsche's philosophy we don't get a new theory or world picture, but a picture of the human soul -- a diagnosis.

The optimum philosophical picture of a man's health is spelt out in Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence. The idea of the eternal recurrence stated by Zarathustra in Nietzsche's book of that title is the idea that everything we do, right down to me giving this talk tonight, eternally recurs. People have always wondered what this could mean. Is it meant in a cosmological sense? Is it some kind of hypothesis? No, I think it is a fable that speaks of the absolute coalescence of personal character and destiny in one truth. Let me explain. When my personal character perfectly expresses the truth that all my creativity can allow me to become, then it is logical that I would will the eternal recurrence of the same. When all the possibilities and potentialities of my being have become actual and real, then, nothing greater can I do; except, at that point to will the eternal recurrence of the same, thereby validating forever all that I have become and should be. This is what Nietzsche means.

Everyone who in their deepest heart doesn't or can't will the eternal recurrence is, in effect, a creative abortion; they fall short of a complete unification of personal character and their destiny. This situation is typical of herd man, the rabble, that Nietzsche despised, just as he despised democracy and populism and public media that promote a herd mentality and a rabble. Were Nietzsche alive in our day, I believe he would see globalization as nothing more than the triumph of the rabble, evidence of those he called, in Zarathustra, 'the last men'. These are the pathetic creatures who are happy with mediocrity and call their mediocrity happiness and want everyone to have it. Their complacency and fatuousness is mocked by Zarathustra.

The point I'm trying to make about the eternal recurrence is given again by Nietzsche in BGE where he writes: 'If one has character, one also has one's typical experience which always recurs.' (BGE, 70 [my emphasis]). What Nietzsche calls noble or virtuous character and recurrence go together. And the more distinguished the character, the more absolute the recurrence. The law of eternal recurrence is the terminal point of this idea of the philosopher and his biography, or, more properly of the thinker and his thought.

In her book Lou makes this point and shows the recurrence of Nietzsche's experience, 'and so, with certainty, [she says] he had to perish.' (N. p.23) This has nothing to do with determinism, but with (in Nietzsche's phrase) 'becoming all that you are,' or making an absolute of oneself, which points to the teaching of the Ubermensch [overman] in Zarathustra. Goethe was Nietzsche's example of such a man, one who created beyond himself [cf. Goethe's Faust, but also his activity, his deeds]. It was Goethe who weighed his words and expressed exactly what he felt and thought and who said, 'Thus one also finds in life a mass of people who do not have enough character to stand alone; they throw themselves at a party, and that makes them feel stronger and allows them to be somebody.'[7]

2. The mask of the philosopher and the philosopher of masks

Lou Salome:

     The companion photos in this book show Nietzsche in the
     midst of the last ten years of suffering. And certainly, it
     was during this time that his physiognomy, his entire
     exterior, appeared to be formed most characteristically. It
     was a time in which the total expression of his being was
     already permeated by his deeply emotional inner life and
     even was significant in that he held back and hid. I may
     say that this hidden element, the intimation of a taciturn
     solitude, was the first, strong impression through which
     Nietzsche's appearance fascinated one (N. p.9).
She speaks about Nietzsche's defective eyesight, which made his eyes seem to be looking inward even while they looked outward.

The discrepancy between Nietzsche's inner life and his outer life show that the outer is a mask. Lou says,

     I remember when I first spoke with Nietzsche during a day
     in the Spring of 1882 in St. Peter's in Rome, his studied,
     elegant posture surprised and deceived me. But not for long
     was one deceived by this recluse who wore his mask so
     awkwardly, like someone who has come out of the wilderness
     and mountains and who is dressed conventionally. Very soon
     a question surfaces, which he formulated in these words:
     'Whenever a person permits something to become visible, one
     can ask: 'What does it hide? From what does it wish to
     divert someone's gaze? What preconception should it arouse?
     And further: to what extreme does the subtlety of this
     disguise go? And, does he misperceive himself in all that?''
     (D. 523; N.p.10).
With this stance, everything that is objective reality, or taken as such, or is interpreted as a fact, has to be reevaluated as an appearance. Nietzsche's revaluation of all values starts here and revolves around this centre.

Nietzsche, quoted by Lou:

     People who think deeply feel themselves to be comedians in
     their relationship with others because they first have to
     simulate a surface in order to be understood.' (HATH, II,
     232; N. p.11).
Lou Salome:

     Nietzsche's thoughts... resemble a skin [which in his words]
     'reveals something but conceals even more' (BGE, 32 my
     emphases) because, he says, 'one either hides one's
     opinions or one hides behind them'
(HATH, II, 338).
Nietzsche finds a lovely designation for himself when he talks in this sense about those 'hidden under the cloaks of light' (BGE, 44), referring to those who cloak themselves in the clarity of their ideas.

Lou Salome:

     In every period of his intellectual development, we
     therefore find a characterizing masquerade in some form or
     fashion: 'Everyone who is deep loves the mask... every
     profound spirit needs a mask; moreover, around every deep
     spirit there continually grows a mask (BGE, 40). 'Wanderer,
     who are you... Rest here... recuperate? What will serve your
     recuperation? Oh you inquisitive one, what are you saying!
     But, give me only, I beg...' What? What? Say it! -- 'One
     more mask! A second mask...' (BGE, 278).
     And it is emphatically clear to us that the degree to which
     his self-immolation and moody withdrawal becomes more
     exclusive, the significance of the periodic masquerade also
     becomes deeper, so that the true being retreats ever more
     imperceptibly from the forms of expression and appearance.
     Already, in The Wanderer and His Shadow (HATH, 175), he
     points to 'mediocrity as mask.' 'Mediocrity is the happiest
     mask which the reflective person can wear, because the great
     mass or mediocre do not think of it as a mask. And yet, he
     assumes that mask for their sake, in order not to provoke
     them and not seldom out of a sense of pity and goodness.'...
     [And in BGE] 'occasionally folly itself is the mask for
     an unfortunate unholy all-too-knowing knowledge.'... Only
     his idea-masks remain, like symbols and emblems, open to
     interpretation, while for us he has already become what he
     once signed himself as in a letter to a friend: 'The
     eternally lost' (July 8, 1881 in Sils Maria). (N. p.11).
In the light of what Lou has said, I think this aphorism, which I give complete, says something about both points one and two that we have looked at so far, (i) the relation of thinker and thought, of the philosopher and his biography and (ii) philosophy as the love and wisdom of masks:

     One always hears in the writings of a hermit something of
     the echo of the desert, something of the whisper and shy
     vigilance of solitude; in his strongest words, even in his
     cry, there still resounds a new and more dangerous kind of
     silence and concealment. He who sat alone with his soul day
     and night [Nietzsche is talking autobiographically here I
     believe] year in year out, in confidential discord and
     discourse, and in his cave -- it may be a labyrinth, but is
     may be a gold-mine -- became a cave-bear or treasure-hunter
     or a treasure-guardian and dragon, finds that his concepts
     themselves at last acquire a characteristic twilight colour,
     a smell of the depths and of must, something
     incommunicable and reluctant which blows cold on every
     passer-by. The hermit does not believe that a philosopher --
     supposing that a philosopher has always been first of all
     a hermit -- has ever expressed his real and final opinions
     in books: does one not write books precisely to conceal
     what lies within us? -- indeed, he will doubt whether a
     philosopher could have 'final and real' opinions at all,
     whether behind each of his caves there does not and must
     lie another, deeper cave -- a stranger, more comprehensive
     world beyond the surface, an abyss behind every ground,
     beneath every 'foundation'. Every philosophy is foreground
     philosophy -- that is a hermit's judgement: 'there is
     something arbitrary in the fact that he stopped, looked
     back, looked around here, that he stopped digging and laid
     his spade aside here -- there is also something suspicious
     about it.' Every philosophy also conceals a philosophy;
     every opinion is also a hiding place, every word also a
     mask (BGE 289).
Nietzsche is talking about the personal intimacy of the philosopher qua philosophy, which means the intrinsic solitariness of the occupation; and he is talking about the height and depths of philosophy, saying truth is qua these heights and depths -- not 'foundations', which are always superficial in that respect. 'Every philosophy conceals a philosophy; every opinion is also a hiding place, every word also a mask' -- that is any philosophy worthy of the name, which for Nietzsche, most philosophy, and more particularly religion, is not. And this saying goes for his philosophy too; for his philosophy perhaps, above all.

3. The inner substance of Nietzsche's philosophy

Lou Salome:

     The mysterious connection between the healthy and the
     pathological in Nietzsche brings us to the essential
     Nietzsche problem (N. p.24).
This problem she describes as a divided self.

She describes this self:

     All of Nietzsche's knowledge arose from a powerful
     religious mood and was insolubly knotted: self-sacrifice
     and apotheosis, the cruelty of one's own destruction and
     the lust for self-deification, sorrowful ailing and
     triumphal recovery, incandescent intoxication and cool
     consciousness. One senses here the close entwining of
     mutual contradictions; one senses the overflowing and
     voluntary plunge of over-stimulated and tensed energies
     into chaos, darkness, and terror, and then an ascending
     urge towards the light and the most tender moments -- the
     urges of a will 'that frees him from the distress of
     fullness and overfulness and from the affliction of the
     contradictions compressed within him'
('Attempts at
     Self-Criticism' BT.5) -- a chaos that wants to give birth
     to a god, and must give birth to one (N.p.24).
The proclaimed death of God in Nietzsche has nothing to do with validating unbelief and atheism, it has to do with what Nietzsche saw as a crisis of creativity in man... in philosophy... in culture... in the bourgeoisie... in Christianity.... That is why Nietzsche repeatedly says of God, that 'we have killed him' [his emphasis, see GS. 125]. His point about the death of God is that our shameful crisis of creativity does not make us fit for gods. Nietzsche's Zarathustra points the way beyond the crisis. He is a fictional prophetic figure. To an extent Nietzsche's philosophy and Nietzsche as philosopher wears a prophet's mask. He is not a prophet, his mask is.

Lou Salome:

     Through the words of Zarathustra during Nietzsche's last
     creative period, he provided himself with an answer to his
     outbreak of torture and yearning: 'All gods are dead: now
     we want the superior man to live!'
(Of the Gift-giving
     virtue,' Z, I [my emphasis]) And with these words Nietzsche
     expressed the inner substance of his philosophy (N. p.27).
Who is the superior man though? The Nazis thought it was the blonde beast, the SS man. In Christianity, the Perfect Man, literally, is Christ. Nietzsche, in a letter to his sister in mid-May 1885, said that no-one can love him because 'this requires the precondition that a person knows who I am.' Those last words 'who I am' are underlined in the letter. He goes on to say in the letter, 'I find the founder of Christianity superficial in comparison with myself.' (p.lviii) Who is the superior man? The superior man is the great creator of values -- which brings us back to Christ again, and for Nietzsche, Goethe, and, more importantly, himself. 'There are two kinds of genius,' Nietzsche writes, 'above all, one which begets and another which will gladly allow itself to become fertile and will give birth' (BGE, 248). 'Undoubtedly', Lou says, 'he belonged to the latter.' (N. p.29) We would put this by saying Nietzsche's genius is in being a great fertile source of inspiration. This is why we are still drawn to Nietzsche and why we still read him.

Lou Salome:

     And so we must direct our attention to the human being and
     not the theorist in order to find our way in Nietzsche's
     works. In that sense, our contemplation will not gain a new
     theoretical world picture but the picture of the human soul
     in all its greatness and sickliness (N. p.29).
In the Preface to The Genealogy of Morals, a book in which Nietzsche is reevaluating values, he wrote: 'For cheerfulness -- or in my language gaya scienza -- is a reward: the reward of long, brave, industrious and subterranean seriousness, of which, to be sure, not everyone is capable. But on the day [of the discovery of moral truth] we can say with all our hearts, 'Onwards! Our old morality too is part of the comedy!' we shall have discovered a new complication and possibility for the Dionysian drama of 'The Destiny of the Soul' [so-called] -- and one can wager that the grand old eternal comic poet of our existence [God] will be quick to make use of it!' (Kaufmann Transl. GM.7).


1. Titles of Nietzsche's works are abbreviated e.g. BGE, Beyond Good and Evil. The abbreviation N is used for Salome's Nietzsche book, referenced below.

2. The source for details of Lou Salome's life is mostly http:---

3. Salome. Looking Back, Memoirs. Transl. Breon Mitchell (New York: Marlowe & Co. 1995) 51.

4. Looking Back, 53 my emphasis.

5. See the letter of Nietzsche to Salome published in the front of the English edition of her book on him. Salome. Nietzsche, Transl. Siegfried Mandel (Urbana. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001) 3.

6. This is my own thought, but I find it iterated in Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption. Transl. W. Hallo (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971) 9, 106.

7. Quoted in Walter Kaufmann, Discovering the Mind. Volume 1: Goethe, Kant, Hegel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980) 16.

(c) Matthew Del Nevo 2009


Web site: http:---

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy Catholic Institute of Sydney 99 Albert Rd Strathfield NSW 2135 Australia



The Italian political situation was very complicated in the 14th century. The absence of a central Authority, such as the empire or the Papacy, allowed anyone to conquer another state through subterfuge or force. This anomaly stimulated humanists to study and debate this strange situation. It is important to remember that the Italian Communes weren't independent from the emperor or the Pope, and public offices were imposed by Authority; however, the Communes usually chose their governors and the Authority simply accepted their decision. This procedure encouraged the ambitious to take the power and they often became tyrants.

At the end of the 14th century, the Empire was slowly subdividing into small independent states, and the intellectuals felt the necessity to discuss and revise political theories. In the Middle Ages new forms of government and new kind of governors were born, so it can be affirmed that in the Middle Ages new typologies of tyrants were also born.

These years represent a period of revision of political language, Jean Dunbabin writes:

     The first difficult question that faces a modern reader of
     medieval political literature is the absence of a precise
     abstract noun to convey 'state', an indispensable concept to
     all modern political thinking. It was not until the end of the
     fifteenth century that status was first used with its
     modern connotation. Before that, authors had the choice of
     res publica (necessarily vaguer and a less rich concept
     than in the time of Cicero), regnum (easily manageable, but
     with several different connotations) or civitas (derived from
     Aristotle but liable to confuse in a world in which city
     government was usually a subordinate part of political
     whole). All could, but need not, denote that combination of
     a precise territorial area with a form of political
     organisation which 'state' implies for us.
In these years, the political commitment of the intellectuals of the 14th century and their discussions about the political questions induced them to review current historical and philosophical opinions.

The De Tyranno is an interesting treatise about tyranny written by Coluccio Salutati, (1331-1406) in 1400, which describes the ways of being a 'tyrant' in the 14th century.

Bartolo da Sassoferrato (1314-1357) also wrote about this topic in his De Tyranno. The jurist wanted to understand when, by law, a territory was reigned by a tyrant, so he described the difference between tyrant ex parte exercitii and tiranno ex defectu tituli. The tyrant ex parte exercitii used violence to govern his country, he didn't show consideration for the common good of people but his power was legally recognized by Authority. The tyrant ex defectu tituli could rule for the common good of people but his power wasn't recognized by Authority.

These ways of being a tyrant represent a new way to conceive of tyranny. Philosophically, from Plato to St. Thomas, tyranny could only be the negative form of government by monarchy; the tyrant represented a moral distortion rather than a political distortion, because the reigning person, whether good or bad, always represented a legal power.

Bartolo da Sassoferrato studied this topic from the point of view of jurisprudence. Coluccio Salutati, instead, took into consideration the historical and philosophical sphere. It's interesting to note that Coluccio didn't know Bartolo's theories. In fact, Bethold Ullman's studies on the manuscripts of the Salutati's library and his letters seem to demonstrate that these two writers didn't know each other.

Moreover, the treatises by Coluccio Salutati and Bartolo da Sassoferrato had a limited distribution; we have to consider a difference which distinguishes their readers: the De Tyranno by Bartolo has often been enclosed to treatises by other jurists whereas the De Tyranno by Coluccio is thought as an answer to the questions asked by Antonio Dell'Aquila, a student of Padua, regarding tyranny. The poor distribution would seem to demonstrate that the new concept of 'tyrant' was used as a rule in the 14th century with the two meanings ex parte exercitii and ex defectu tituli and this fact could explain why Coluccio and Bartolo came to the same conclusion following different paths.

Coluccio, in his De Tyranno, starting from a question asked by Antonio Dell'Aquila, concerning an analysis about the XXXIV Canto of The Divine Comedy where Dante punishes Brutus and Cassius for the murder of Caesar, demonstrated that Caesar wasn't in fact a tyrant. This treatise contains all the topics of the humanistic thought: there is Caesar who represents the ancient values; Dante and the use of Florentine language and what he represents for the Florentine Republic as a man of culture, and the political connections between the ancients and the moderns and the consequent search of a logical thread in the history of philosophy.

It must be stated beforehand that Caesar in the 14th century, especially in the republican spheres, was indeed seen as a tyrant. We could affirm that this subject is born in Dante's thought but it is still alive in Machiavelli's theories. This subject is not only a way to judge the historical problems and the History of Rome but also raises a question regarding the way in which one takes part in politics; when the humanists talk about Caesar they talk about politics.

The structure of the De Tyranno analysed the figure of the tyrant from a philosophical point of view. Coluccio used the definitions of famous authors, such as St. Gregory and John of Salisbury. He rebuilt the history of the Roman Republic and especially Caesar's period. Only then, the reader knowing the history of Rome and philosophical theories about the tyranny, was Coluccio able to judge Dante's verses.

Coluccio cited passages of the Moralia in Job of St. Gregory the Great, where the Pope explained that anyone could be a tyrant if he didn't respect the law: one could be a tyrant in the government, one could be a tyrant in his city, one could be a tyrant at home, or even in his own mind, so only God could judge these men because only God really knows them.

This position reflected medieval thought, where politics was not an important factor in understanding who was 'the tyrant'. The Aristotelian vision of the actions of government was less apparent, as ethics and politics intermingled; in fact, for St. Gregory the Great social role isn't decisive for the question.

Now that the treatise has explained who is the tyrant, the second question is: could people kill the tyrant? The law must protect citizens from injustice; the tyrant surely represents an unjust form of governor. There is, now, an ethical problem: when do the citizens rebel against the tyrant to defend themselves and to bring the law into force again?

The History of Rome -- which represented the best model of civilization for the humanists -- is full of examples which Coluccio uses in his treatise, but in it there is also an original conclusion because the Chancellor emphasizes the differences among tyrants, using the political point of view of his century, so he can affirm that every citizen must defend his country from a tyrant, if the tyrant is a tyrant ex defectu tituli.

This qualification is very important in order to understand the treatise because it explains Salutati's thought; from this point on Coluccio's account of  Roman History is filtered through the medieval vision of the 14th century. This viewpoint belongs to Coluccio and to Bartolo not to the ancients. It allows Coluccio to affirm that only the Emperor could authorize someone to rule a state, so the popular election of a leader who could guide the country is not valid, otherwise the new leader will be a tyrant ex defectu tituli, even if he rules for the common good of the country, because his power is not legal!

Another question regards the rebellion that is not good when a tyrant replaces a tyrant (History demonstrates it), because who is accustomed 'to the passivity in serving' risks that the revolt's followed by a period of repression. Instead, in the case of a tyrant ex parte exercitii, only the Authority could depose him, and only the Authority could decide to kill him and not the people, who can never be superior to the law.

The law limits violent acts, Coluccio, in fact, condemns the 'fortunate murder considered virtue', when someone kills the tyrant and becomes an hero for the people. On the contrary, Coluccio explains that no-one can kill the tyrant, because only the Authority can decide what is right and what is wrong; besides, there are decisions that people can't understand: some time the one who rules, acts for the common good, even if his decisions can appear wrong.

Coluccio set out to establish if Caesar was or was not a tyrant. To understand Caesar's position in the Roman Republic, Coluccio thought it was necessary to explain what had happened after the civil war between Caesar and Pompey.

Coluccio quoted Cicero's words, 'We saw your victory and the end of the (civil) war, and we did not see a sword without the sheath', after he cited Floro in affirming the popular enthusiasm for Caesar's victory. These sources demonstrated that Caesar wasn't a tyrant ex defectu tituli because he was acclaimed by the crowd (the Authority of the Republic of Rome), and he wasn't a tyrant ex parte exercitii because he was magnanimous and generous with his enemies. But, if Caesar wasn't a tyrant, Brutus and Cassius were wrong. The History of Rome confirms these suspicious, in fact Coluccio remember that, after Caesar's death, Brutus and Cassius didn't have a political strategy to govern Rome and there were disorders until the accession of Octavian.

For Salutati, the question now becomes: what is the right law? The law could be the law of the empire, where it exists, or the people's law, where it doesn't exist, in any case a human law. The law could be Moral, the Divine Law. The Divine Law forbids anyone to kill the tyrant ex parte exercitii but it permits one to kill the tyrant ex parte tituli because he violates the law of God.

Before the 14th century St. Thomas 'distinguished the tyrant without claim (absque titulo) from the tyrant who is tyrannical when he rules (quoad exercitum)' and he said that the tyrannicide could be considered against the tyrant absque titulo, because he usurped the legal title, designed by the divine will. If the tyrant was quoad exercitum it represented the divine will, that punished human actions.

Salutati prefers human law, against St. Thomas point of view, because it is stable, in fact, following the Divine Law, who could judge what is wrong and what is right?

The murder of Caesar is very important in understanding the difference between human law and the Divine Law. The question is: did Brutus and Cassius want the common good for people or did they want to rebel against the tyrant? Could they judge Caesar and what were the methods of valuation to judge a tyrant?

If there isn't a human law to justify tyrannicide how can a State avoid political instability? How can that State affirm what is moral and what is not moral?

The weakness of the Empire enabled the birth of the States and a new way to concept the law, the law as the king's will. Coluccio didn't support a new concept of law, he didn't talk about Divine Law or human law, he couldn't distinguish them but, surely, he understood the inadequacy of the medieval concept of law and its unbalancing of moral vision.

In the De Nobilitate Legum et Medicinae, written in 1399, Salutati demonstrates the value of law that acts for the common good, because it doesn't care for the single good, it doesn't care about the single man, on the contrary, the Medicine takes care of everyone, even the tyrant.

The considerations that we find in the De Tyranno by Coluccio Salutati don't seem to go back to the medieval thought of monarchy, his considerations seem to be, philosophically, modern for the 14th century. Salutati's treatise demonstrates the philosophical development on the argument of tyranny, a debate that interested the most important intellectuals of the century, particularly, in the Italian sphere.

Coluccio submerged himself in the theories of Gregory the Great, John of Salisbury, St. Thomas; he altered them, he broadened them with his point of view, with his knowledge.

Salutati's thought, in the De Tyranno, demonstrates the relation between law and Freedom. In every government, where the law rules there is Freedom, because the law defends the single man as well as the community. In a tyrannical government the law doesn't rule, so it is difficult to find freedom, because the tyrant doesn't defend the single man or the community, he wants only to defend his own interests.

At the end of the treatise, when Coluccio greeted Antonio Dell'Aquila, he wrote 'If I didn't, as I believe, satisfy you, accuse my ignorance. In fact, I'm readier to learn than to teach.'


Baron Hans, La Crisi del Primo Rinascimento Italiano, G.S. Sansoni Editore, Firenze 1970.

Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino, Il Dizionario di Politica, UTET, Torino 2004.

Canfora Davide, Prima di Machiavelli, Editori Laterza, Bari 2005.

Dunbabin Jean, Government in Medieval Political Thought c. 350 - c. 1450, The Cambridge History of, Cambridge 2005.

Ercole Francesco, 'Sulle fonti e sul contenuto della distinzione tra tirannia ex defectu tituli e tirannia exercitio', in Contributo alla storia della pubblicistica e del diritto pubblico italiano del rinascimento, Firenze 1912.

Fiocchi Claudio, Mala Potestas. La tirannia nel pensiero politico medievale, Lubrica, Bergamo 2004.

Quaglioni Diego, Politica e Diritto nel Trecento Italiano, il De Tyranno di Bartolo da Sassoferrato (1314-1357), Leo S. Olschki, Firenze 1983.

Salutati Coluccio, Il trattato De Tyranno e lettere scelte, a cura di F. Ercole, Zanichelli Ed., Bologna 1942.

Salutati Coluccio, De Nobilitate Legum et Medicinae a cura di E. Garin, Vallecchi Editore, Firenze 1947.

Ullman Bethold Louis, The Humanism of Coluccio Salutati, Editore Antenore, Padova 1963.

Ullman Berthold Luois, The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Roma 1960.

Witt Ronald, 'The De tyranno and Coluccio Salutati's View of Politics and Roman History', in Nuova Rivista Storica, fascicolo III-IV, Maggio Agosto 1969, Societa Editrice Dante Alighieri, Firenze 1969.

(c) Marco Cirillo 2009





In this paper, I attempt to show that Searle's theory of social reality is largely based on his observation of some essential features of democratic societies, and is not universally applicable as it claims to be. I argue that his notion of collective acceptance or agreement, which is fundamental to his general theory, does not explain why a dictatorial or totalitarian regime as a social reality is able to survive through a significant period of time and continuously create and maintain institutional facts which are supposed to have no basis of collective acceptance or agreement.

Part 1

Searle's idea of collective intentionality plays a crucial role in developing his theory of social reality. The difference between individual intentionality and collective intentionality is that individual intentionality is expressed in the form of 'I intend...' ('I' intentionality), whereas collective intentionality is expressed in the form of 'we intend...' ('we' intentionality). Searle's view is that 'we' intentionality is individualistic in the sense that it is not reducible to 'I' intentionality.[1]

The view seems to be at odds with the common understanding about 'we' that 'we' cannot be treated as denoting an individual agent, which is reflected in the grammar of ordinary language: when used as a subject in a sentence, 'we' as a plural pronoun admits only plural verbs, including 'intend'. Now to characterize we intentionality as individualistic may be deemed as a consequence of a grammatical error, that is, treating the plural as singular in a real sense. The grammatical error became a target of Russell's criticism primarily for its metaphysical implication. Russell argues that to insist on the existence of plural objects as one (single) is reification, and that there is no single object as Brown-and-Jones -- there are only Brown and Jones.[2] Thus 'we intend...' should be understood as 'I intend... + you intend... + he intends... + she intends... +...', given that 'I', 'you', 'he', 'she' and so on are members of the class denoted by the plural pronoun 'we'. This can be schematized as:

     wx = (a + b + c + n)x = ax + bx + cx + nx

     (w = 'we', a, b, c, and n stand for the members of the
     group, x for any act)

But this reductionist account of collective intentionality, according to Searle, does not help understand collective intentionality: to fully appreciate the meaning of collective intentionality, according to Searle, one has to recognize its singularity.

Russell's formula may be able to explain some particular cases where all the members of the group are doing the same thing, for example, drinking and reading. What is called 'a group' here is basically arbitrary, for it lacks the minimal feature of structure, i.e., 'collectivity' or 'togetherness.' Searle's example is two people discovering by accident that they are playing the same piece in a synchronized fashion.[3] The conception of individuals as basically discrete and independent may give rise to the 'super-mind' realism in the sense that 'super-mind' is the abstraction of individual minds.[4] Searle could argue, of course, that collective acts, such as collective intentionality, are not some common features shared by individuals, and therefore cannot be abstracted from the individuals. The dichotomy scheme of 'particular vs. universal' or 'substance vs. attribute' is entirely inadequate for understanding the real sense of 'collective intentionality.' 'Togetherness' or 'collectivity' is not derivable from the plural form of individuals, which stands merely for an aggregate of individuals.

However, the reductionism Searle refers to is different from and more complex than the above one, for it has already taken into consideration the fact that intentionality as an internal act does not fit the model based on external acts (e.g., 'playing', 'drinking'). Intentionality, as customarily understood, is only personal in much the same way a pain is personal. Unlike other predicates predicated of the subject 'we', such as 'play' and 'drink', intentionality (e.g., 'intend', 'believe') is inside the person's brain. As Searle puts it, 'because all intentionality exists in the heads of individual human beings, the form of that intentionality can make reference only to the individuals in whose heads it exists.'[5] Therefore, 'we intentions' is either a metaphysical illusion ('the Hegelian world spirit'), or to be better expressed as 'I intend that you intend that I intend...' Rather than 'ax + bx + cx +... + nx', it should be symbolized as


     (For the sake of simplicity, suppose the group has only
     two members.)

The above formula expresses what Searle calls 'mutual beliefs' which are arranged in 'a potentially infinite hierarchy' indicated by the ellipsis. While this formulation of 'we intentionality' eliminates the possibility of understanding 'we' as 'a super mind', it says nothing about 'we' or conveys no sense of collectivity and togetherness in assertions like 'we collectively intend...'

The remedy then, according to Searle, is to understand collective intentionality as prior to singular intentionality. That is, singular intentionality is simply derived from collective intentionality, and not the other way around. This is, of course, not to deny the existence of singular intentionality. Singular intentionality is not unreal, and 'I think that you think that I think...' does express a type of real mental act. The mistake of the reductionist lies in the fact that she always starts with individuals as discrete entities, and then tries to establish a net of (collective) relations between them. But in order to capture the real sense of collectivity, Searle suggests, one has to start with the relations between individuals; it is the relations that make individuals the members of a certain group.

Humans as well as many species of animals (e.g., hyenas) are social beings, and talk of their individuality presupposes collectivity as the essential part of their nature.[6] Now Searle's account of collective intentionality does appear to be a proper target of Russell's criticism: treating Brown-and-Jones as one. But if language provides any clue at all, one perhaps should not neglect the grammatical singularity of expressions such as 'a team' and 'a party', etc. which are semantically equivalent to 'the members of a team' and 'the members of a party' respectively. We can say not only 'we intend...,' 'they intend...,' but also 'this team intends...' and 'the party intends...' While the switch from the plural to the singular may well suggest the formation of 'a super-mind', nothing prevents it from being understood as an indication of a net of relations, an entity that is not another individual over and above Brown and Jones.

Part 2

The account of collective intentionality is fundamental to Searle's theory of social reality, for it provides the basis for understanding all the other important concepts, especially 'social facts' and 'institutional facts'. While Searle succeeds admirably in his non-reductionist account of collective intentionality, there are two problems, which he does not take into consideration. First, it is unclear just how particular collective intentions are formed, or more specifically, whether or not individual intentions play any role in the formation of collective intentions. Second, it is unclear whether there could be pseudo-collective intentions, that is, individual intentions disguised as collective intentions, or intentions of the few disguised as intentions of the many.

Searle's view that individual intentionality is derived from collective intentionality concerns the intentionality of individuals who are members of a group with collective intentionality, as in the case of a violin player intending to play in a certain way as part of the orchestra's intention to performing a symphony in a particular style. But as Searle acknowledges, there are intentional facts that are purely individual and hence are not derivative from collective intentionality, such as the fact that I want a drink of water.[7] The individual intentionality which is said to be derived from collective intentionality is only the intentionality of the individual who has already participated in a certain collective activity and whose intentionality is in accordance to, though not always the same as, the collective intentionality.

However, Searle gives no hint as to whether collective intentionality requires any individual intentionality as a prior condition for the creation of it. It seems obvious that people have to be motivated to come together to do something collectively, and if so, what intentionality it is in the first place that makes the collective intentionality to do that something possible.

To be sure, the formation of a group requires the pre-existence of individuals who are not yet members of the group. From this it follows that collectivity and togetherness presuppose separateness, and that collective intentionality presupposes the pre-existence of individual intentionality in the sense that there must be separate individual intentions to form collective intentionality. Now it is important to distinguish pre-collective individual intention from post-collective individual intention.

At the first stage, separate individual intentions have the same content (i.e., to form a group), which, however, contains no sense of collectivity and togetherness, although the separate individuals can together be self-referred to as 'we'. They are a collection without collectivity, and hence preserve all the features of separation between individuals. A real collection (collection with collectivity) must grow out of an 'unreal' collection. That is, before we get together to do something collectively, each of us must have the intention towards collectivity togetherness, which is not derived from the collective intentionality formed later. Collective intentionality does not come into existence without the presence of individual intentionality in the first place. People do not form their collective intentionality by coercive force or by chance. Each of them intends to form their collective intentionality. Curiously, Searle does not address this pre-collective intentionality at all.

Part 3

The notion of collective intentionality is used by Searle to explain all social facts, that is, not only the non-institutional social facts (e.g., hyenas hunting a lion, two friends going for a walk), but also institutional facts (a special subclass of social facts, e.g., money). He claims that while collective imposition of functions on objects (a manifestation of collective intentionality) is a crucial element in the creation of institutional facts, the performance of such imposition must be based on collective acceptance or agreement.[8] However Searle says nothing about the collective agreement or acceptance itself. He simply takes it as the pre-condition for the creation of institutional facts.

Now the question is whether collective acceptance or agreement is a matter of collective intentionality or the precondition of collective intentionality, or whether collective acceptance or agreement is an acceptance or agreement of a real collection. It is certainly true that collective acceptance or agreement can be expressed in terms of singularity, in cases such as 'the party accepts...' or 'the board agrees on...' We may treat this kind of collective acceptance or agreement as collective intentionality as Searle suggests. And it can also be an institutional fact (rather than the pre-condition of the creation of institutional facts), if its performance fits the criterion of 'X counts as Y in C'.

For example, the debate on whether 50% + 1 can count as a collective acceptance of Quebec's independence is a matter of creating a certain institutional fact, which is collective acceptance or agreement. In order to create an institutional fact such as Quebec's independence, there has to be an acceptance or agreement on passing a legislation regarding 50% + 1, whose success or failure is to be determined by the result of the debate.

Of course, the debate on the legislation can also be an institutional fact, so far as it is set up under certain institutional rules. One can always go back from institutional facts to mere social facts, for example, from institutionalized collective agreement (signing a peace agreement) to un-institutionalized collective agreement (informal acceptance of the proposal of signing an agreement). Nevertheless, so long as the acceptance or agreement is only the manifestation of collective intentionality, whether this manifestation is at the un-institutional level or at the institutional level, it is still not acceptance or agreement in the real sense, for any acceptance or agreement must presuppose the independence of individuals who intend to make the agreement and the agreement must be made among individuals, not by the group they form.

The above argument for an initial individual intentionality as the pre-condition of the formation of collective intentionality can be extended to support the thesis that individual intentionality is also a persistent and continuing force underlying collective intentionality. The birth of collective intentionality is not followed by the death of non-derivative individual intentionality. The capacity of retrieving to non-derivative individual intentionality must be ensured so that collective intentionality will not become fundamentally inconsistent with it. Searle points out, rightly, that institutions survive on acceptance.[9] That is, not only the creation of institutional facts, but also their maintenance, relies on acceptance or agreement by the members of a given society. If the capability of retrieving to individual intentionality is eliminated or significantly weakened, collective intentionality will lose its real sense of collectivity and togetherness.

Part 4

It is not difficult to see that the concept of collective intentionality (along with all the related concepts such as social facts, institutional facts) contains a minimal sense of democracy. Not surprisingly, almost all the examples Searle gives are what may be called democratic activities (violinists playing in an orchestra, passing a legislation), the most cited of which is a football game, a perfect illustration of the principle of fair play. Searle seems to take for granted that the creation and maintenance of social facts and especially institutional facts are games of fair play.

Of course he does not deny the existence of 'unfair play', such as the politics in the former Soviet Union and other totalitarian societies, which, however, he tries to explain away by appeal to the existence of acceptance and agreement at some level. He criticizes the view that in the end it all depends on who has the most armed might, and that brute facts will always prevail over institutional facts. 'The guns are ineffectual except to those who are prepared to use them in cooperation with others and in structures, however, informal, with recognized lines of authority and command. And all of that requires collective intentionality and institutional facts.'[10]

This is partially true, as in many groups and large communities there is no need for democratic institutions in the strict sense to ensure the presence of collective acceptance or agreement. Individuals or a sub-group within a group as the authority may well represent the collective intentionality of the group to which they belong. But there are perhaps more cases in which what is thought of as collective intentionality is really disguised intentionality of the dictators, and collective acceptance or agreement is consistently treated as redundant. Searle claims that '[t]he secret of understanding the continued existence of institutional facts is simply that the individuals directly involved and a sufficient number of members of the relevant community must continue to recognize and accept the existence of such facts.'[11] This is clearly a description of an ideal democracy, which does not apply to dictatorial and totalitarian societies where all the institutional facts continue to exist without collective acceptance by a sufficient number of members of the relevant community.

A response to this challenge, from Searle's point of view, is to argue that even when the overall collective acceptance or agreement is absent in a highly dictatorial or totalitarian society, there still exists collective acceptance or agreement at a certain level, that is, at the level of those in power. But this seems contradictory to Searle's view that collective acceptance or agreement requires a sufficient number of members of the relevant community. The collective acceptance or agreement by the members of the ruling party in a totalitarian society or the dictator's loyal followers can not substitute the collective acceptance or agreement of the society as a whole, for they constitute only a very small fraction of the population of the given society whose collective acceptance or agreement really counts.

In other words, even if collective acceptance or agreement always exists in both the creation and maintenance of institutional facts, it does not follow that the existence of any collective acceptance or agreement is sufficient for the creation and maintenance of institutional facts. As Susan Babbitt puts it, 'it would seem that institutional facts are explained by the agreement of some, and how the agreement of some can constitute institutions and the agreement of others does not is a question not answered or addressed.'[12]

The institutional facts in dictatorial and totalitarian societies, e.g., the former Soviet Union, the former Eastern European countries, People's Republic of China, and North Korea were or are maintained by the armed police and military power, not by collective acceptance or agreement of the general population. Of course, collective acceptance or agreement can be forced as it was or still is often the case in these countries, and forced acceptance or agreement may retain all the superficial features of genuine acceptance or agreement, which were often put on display. Marching through Red Square or Tiananmen Square was craftily designed to show the 'solidarity' of the mass and their collective acceptance or agreement.

Searle criticizes the communist 'truth' that 'power grows out of the barrel of a gun' as one of the great illusions of the era. He is certainly right in insisting that power grows out of organization, i.e., systematic arrangements of status-functions, as 'in such organizations the unfortunate person with a gun is likely to be among the least powerful and the most exposed to danger. The real power resides with the person who sits at a desk and makes noises through his or her mouth and marks on paper.'[13] While there is probably collective acceptance or agreement in the first place to create such a power relationship between the person who sits at the desk and those who carry guns, it is hard to see that the power relationship between the military force and the mass under control is established by the same type of acceptance or agreement. In a totalitarian society, numerous institutional facts and social facts in general (from money to loyalty) are created and maintained by the authority in the absence of (genuine) collective acceptance or agreement of the society.

If we still wish to apply Searle's ontology to the social reality of a dictatorial or totalitarian society, we must re-define either 'collective acceptance or agreement' or 'institutional facts.' We may regard forced collective acceptance or agreement as genuine, as the authority of a dictatorial or totalitarian society actually does. But forced acceptance or agreement is clearly not the acceptance or agreement Searle talks about. Alternatively, we may abandon the claim that institutional facts are necessarily created and maintained by (genuine) collective acceptance or agreement. This move is equally undesirable from Searle's point of view, for it amounts to removing the basis of his theory of social reality.

For Searle, the importance of collective acceptance or agreement could never be overemphasized. He writes, 'Because the whole system works only by collective acceptance, it would seem a priori that there is not much we could do with it, and it all looks very fragile, as if the whole system might just collapse at any time.'[14] This may explain the lost control of the L.A. police in the 1992's riot and the collapse of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, there is still a difference between the impotence of the L.A. police in the 1992's riot and the success of the military forces in the cracking down of the Prague demonstration in 1968 and in the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. Searle's theory does not seem to be able to answer the question: Why is a system that is not accepted able to survive through a significant period of time and continuously create and maintain institutional facts which are supposed to have no basis of collective acceptance or agreement?


Babbitt, Susan, Book Review (The Construction of Social Reality), The Philosophical Review Vol.106, No.4, 1997

Russell, B., The Principles of Mathematics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; reprinted, G. Allen & Unwin, London 1937

Searle, John R., The Construction of Social Reality, Free Press, New York 1995


1. John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, New York : Free Press, 1995: 23-26.

2. Russell, B., 1903, The Principles of Mathematics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; reprinted, London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1937: 57.

3. John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, 25.

4. Ibid, 25.

5. Ibid, 25.

6. One can notice that Searle's thought on collective intentionality has much in common with Marx' account of human nature ('the totality of social relations'). Both maintain the primacy of relation to individuals, in virtue of which, it is promised, one can avoid both the abstract speculation on the entities involved in the relations and the Hegelian 'super-mind.' More importantly, both agree on the derivative nature of individual intentionality. However, whereas Marx is only concerned with the derivation of individual intentionality from a particular collective intentionality, namely, class intentionality -- all other kinds of collective intentionality are merely distorted class intentionality and thus reflect in one way or another class intentionality, Searle thinks that groups can be identified in various ways: there exist not only class intentions, but also intentions of religious communities, of nations, of armies, of game teams, etc. Searle goes so far as to assert that collective intentionality can even be found at the biological level, e.g., hyenas hunting a lion.

7. John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, 122. In this regard, Searle diverges from Marx. Marx thought that individual intentionality (individual consciousness) as a reflection of the reality is mediated by particular ideologies, which are a systematic manifestation of collective intentionality (collective consciousness). It may be said that for Marx there is no real individual intentionality.

8. Ibid, 39.

9. Ibid, 118.

10. Ibid, 117.

11. Ibid, 117.

12. The Philosophical Review, Vol.106, No.4, 609.

13. John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, 117.

14. Ibid, 90.

(c) Xiaoqiang Han 2009


Department of Philosophy University of Toronto Ontario



     The philo officer, seeking wisdom,
     shook the prickly cactus by the hand;
     by determining the painful, silent truth of the matter,
     he reaffirmed the most powerful,
     intelligent, ingredient of life,
     which continues to elude
     the smooth, intellectual surface of mortality,
     since the birth of time.

(c) Michael Levy 2009


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