Saussure’s Cours as an Alternative Source for Social Ontology
Prieto (1990) said that a Saussurean theory of institution is still missing, and that it is to be seen as the ultimate goal of his semiology. Insofar, a Saussurean theory of institutions is fit for a comparison with social ontology – a trend of inquiry that is mainly based on Searle's account of social and institutional reality (see Searle 1995, 2010). A Saussurean framework in social ontology would have three main differences with the Searlean one: a) the distinction between Langue and Langage; b) a semiotic approach; and c) the primacy of collective intentionality on individual intentionality.
Searle and Saussure share the opinion that language is an institution, but a very special one: an institution to which every other institution must be related. But the reasons for this are in some way different. Searle (2008, 2010: 65-86) engages himself in a conceptual reconstruction of the origins of language. Once language is there, a deontological world is open for man, so that he can use performatives (or Declarations) to give birth to institutions. Language itself, indeed, remains an exceptional institution, because it did not need any Declaration to take place (Searle 2010:110).
A Saussurean approach could easily explain this: the role of Declarations is actually played by every act of speech, and the problem of the origins resolves in the very fact of tradition (Saussure 19222: 105). As for Searle, also for Saussure language cannot have any origin, i.e. any once-and-for-all Declaration (or contract). But every act of speech is (also) an act of the will, stating the legitimacy of language as an institution. Saussure's sanction/consécration (see Saussure 1957, 19222) is equivalent in some way to Searle "status assignment". Saussure is always careful to add the adjective 'collective', or 'social' (because an individual act of parole is not sufficient to change something into langue). But the life of language actually resolves in a great number of acts of speech, each one realized with the will to keep into the tradition, and the lack of these acts would automatically involve the disappearing – the "death" – of (a) language.
The relationship between individual and collective intentionality in language, then, seems different and more complex than the one accounted for by Searle. The individual will is a necessary condition, and the social will is what makes institutions living and active. But the social will (≈ collective intentionality) is not a sum of individual intentionality or will: rather, it is detached from, and imposing on, each individual will – and also on the sum of individuals as such.
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