John Searle

On this date in 1932, John Searle was born in Denver, Colo. He graduated from Oxford University in 1955 with a B.A., and returned to complete an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy in 1959. He has received honorary degrees from six other universities, including the University of Wisconsin, which he attended for three years before receiving his degree at Oxford. He is an accomplished philosopher and professor who currently teaches philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has published 22 books about various topics in philosophy, including Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969) and Mind, Language, and Society (1999). Searle has received numerous awards, including the National Humanities Medal in 2005 and the Mind and Brain Prize in 2006. His major areas of interest include the philosophy of language and the mind.

Searle is most famous for inventing the Chinese Room Argument, a rebuttal to the idea of artificial intelligence. In the Chinese Room Argument, Searle argues that computers do not have real intelligence, similarly to how a person who follows English instructions for writing in Chinese does not really understand Chinese. Searle’s Chinese Room Argument is still widely debated today, and Pat Hayes even defined the field of cognitive science as “the ongoing research program of showing Searle’s Chinese Room Argument to be false” (via Stevan Harnad’s 2001 essay, “Minds, Machines and Searle II: What’s Wrong and Right About Searle’s Chinese Room Argument?”). When Free Inquiry, a secular humanist magazine, asked Searle in 1998 if he believed in god, Searle replied, “I don’t.” In that interview, he calls himself “a kind of agnostic.”

Photo by Matthew Breindel under CC 3.0

“On the available evidence we have about how the world works, we have to say that we’re alone, there is no God.” 

—John Searle, interviewed in Free Inquiry, 1998

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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