Social reality

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Chapter 7 endnote 8, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Money is a classic example of social reality. [...] Ernst Cassirer anticipated the idea of social reality

The noted philosopher John Searle characterized social reality as a transformation.[1][2] A perceiver-independent object, event, or property (say, a piece of green paper) transforms into something new (a one-dollar bill) that has perceiver-dependent functions (purchasing power) in some context (the U.S. economy).

Searle’s rule is:

X becomes Y in C


  • X is a perceiver-independent object, event, or property
  • Y is a new outcome that has perceiver-dependent functions
  • C is the context in which this transformation occurs.

The functions do not derive from the physical basis of Y.[3]

The idea of social reality was anticipated by the German philosopher of culture Ernst Cassirer who wrote in the early 20th century, “Man has, as it were, discovered a new method of adapting himself to his environment [...] which we may describe as the symbolic system. This new acquisition transforms the whole of human life. As compared with the other animals man lives not merely in a broader reality; he lives, so to speak, in a new dimension of reality.”[4]

Notes on the Notes

  1. Searle, John R. 1995. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  2. Searle, John R. 2010. Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization. New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. For a more detailed discussion of how emotions are social reality, see Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 2012. "Emotions are real." Emotion 12 (3): 413-429.
  4. Cassirer, Ernst. 1944. "The concept of group and the theory of perception." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 5 (1): 1-36, p. 24.