In this commentary I respond to John Searle's conceptual framework for the interpretation of ‘social facts' as a provocation to spell out some of the philosophical foundations of the romantic pluralist tradition in cultural anthropology. Romantic pluralists in anthropology seek to affirm (to the extent such affirmation is reasonably possible) what the philosopher John Gray describes as ‘the reality, validity and human intelligibility of values and forms of life very different from our own'. With special attention to two examples of contemporary social facts (a witchcraft tribunal in Africa and death pollution practices in a Hindu temple town), the commentary raises questions about John Searle's approach to the mind-body problem and his account of epistemic objectivity and ontological subjectivity with regard to social facts. An alternative philosophy of the real is proposed that makes it possible for anthropologists to give an intelligible account of forms of life different from one's own without interpreting those forms of life (and related pictures of the world) as either reified illusions or fetishized figments of a collective imagination.
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