BERGMANN ON THE INTENTIONALITY OF THOUGHT

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  • BERGMANN ON THE INTENTIONALITY OF THOUGHT Michael Tye Northern Illinois University

    In this paper I want to consider the dominant aspects of the treatment of intentionality which has been developed, defended and modified over a period of some fifteen years by Gustav Bergmann. Specifically, I want to consider Bergmanns analysis with respect to what I shall call the problem of entailment failure. I shall argue that Bergmann fails to solve the problem of entailment failure. I shall also argue that the problem is given sense to by a certain picture of the nature of thought, a picture which, it could be said, holds Bergmann captive.

    I

    Consider the statements:

    (1) The thought that the cat is on the mat occurs to Smith

    and

    (2) The cat is on the mat.

    The failure of (1) to entail (2) becomes problematic if one conceives of thought as being essentially relational in character. For if (1) ibs construed along the lines of

    (1) Having the thought of (Smith, the cats being on the mat) thenprimafacie (1) does entail (2), whilst if it is construed along the lines of

    (1) Having the thought of (Smith, X),

    where X # the cats being on the mat, then it is not at all obvious what X could be.

    There are, I think, three ways out of the problem briefly broached here: one is to deny that thought is relational in the ordinary descriptive sense; another is to postulate that there are transcendental items (subsistents, possibilities, immanent objects or whatever) to play the role of X, and a third is to reject the idea which gives rise to the problem, the idea, that is, that thought is relational at all. The early Bergmann opts for the first of these three alternatives; let me begin then with the early Bergmanns views.

    Mickel Tye received his education at Oxford University and S. V.N. Y. at &Halo. He has taught at Haverford College and is presently an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Northern Illinois University.

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  • The initial gambit can perhaps best be brought out by raising a

    (3)

    entail

    (2)

    question: Why doesnt the statement

    Either the cat is on the mat or it isnt

    The cat is on the mat?

    Bergmanns answer is that the former statement is an analytic truth. As such it is reducible to a certain recognizable form, a form which renders its truth independent of the way the world is and hence makes it independent of the truth of (2). To see the relevance of this point to the problem at hand, we must take (1) through a number of transfor- mations. To begin with, (1) can be rewritten as

    (4) Smith has the thought that the cat is on the mat

    and (4) can be rewritten, according to Bergmann, as

    ( 5 ) Smith has a thought of the kind which intends (means) that the cat is on the mat.

    Bergmanns claim now is that the kind of thought which intends that the cat is on the mat is the kind of thought which has the proposition that the cat is on the mat as its character. Indeed, his claim is that it is in virtue of this propositional character that the thought acquires its intentional aspect. ( 5 ) then is to be reparsed as

    Smith has a thought with the propositional character that the cat is on the mat, and the propositional character that the cat is on the mat intends that the cat is on the mat.

    Embedded in (6) , as its second conjunct, is a statement which Bergmann argues is as analytic as (3). The argument, in outline, is as follows: The statement

    The propositional character that the cat is on the mat intends the cat is on the mat

    (6 )

    (7)

    has the form

    (8) The propositional character that---------- intends

    Any statement of this form is self-evidently true in the case that the same statement occupies the two occurrences of the blanks and false otherwise. There is then, so Bergmann thinks, clearly a sense in which identical statements occupying the blanks in (8) may be said to occur vacuously whilst the words the propositional character that and intends may not. Moreover, this sense is analogous to the sense in which identical statements occupying the blanks in the form

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  • (9) It is not the case that ---------- or ----------

    may be said to occur vacuously whilst the words It is not the case that and or may not. And therefore Bergmann concludes that just as the features of (9) are held to license the assertion that (3) is analytic, so the features of (8) must be held to license that assertion that (7) is analytic too.

    Granted the cogency of the above maneuver, it follows that Bergmann can reasonably claim that both the propositional character that and intends are logical terms on a par with it is not the case that and or. The formal transcription of these terms makes use of two additional logical signs, namely r 1 and M. r 1 paraphrases the propositional character that and forms a primitive, monadic, first-order predicate when placed around any statement-making sentence p . M paraphrases intends and (a) forms a sentence whenever a propositional predicate, @l , is put to its left and a statement-making sentence, s, to its right; (b)

    is such that r p l Ms is either analytic or contradictory-the former obtaining when p is the same sentence as s, the latter otherwise.

    The early Bergmannian analysis is now in a position to reconcile the idea that thought is essentially relational with the failure of (1) to entail (2). For his claim is that the relational aspect of thought is captured by the analytic truth (7), and this analytic truth no more entails (2) than does the analytic truth (3).

    (One might, I suppose, object that the analysis is incomplete in the sense that it leaves unexplicated the independence of the first conjunct of (6) from (2). To do so, however, would be to forget that the nature of the propositional character has already been specified albeit in the formal mode. To repeat the specification materially, it is a simple, non- relational character which, for Bergmann, is on a logical par with the property of being red.)

    What I find interesting, indeed brilliant, about this early analysis is the way in which Bergmann confronts the problem which his intuitions create. He begins with a certain picture of the structure of thought, a picture within which thought is conceived of as a sort of grappling- device (to use a phrase of Rortys) which, in some sense, latches on to the states of affairs it intends. He immediately realizes, however, that this picture gives rise to the problem of entailment failure, it gives a sense, if you will, to such questions as: How can (1) be true when (2) is not? His response, therefore, is to argue that the problem collapses so long as the grappling involved is no common-garden descriptive matter. More positively, it is to argue that the manner in which thought hooks on to the world is essentially logical. Intending, in other words, is a logical relation. Thus, e.g., in the paper Acts, Bergmann says:

    To grasp (my analysis) accurately is to see that where some philosophers saw a problem, there really is none. To grasp that still more firmly, consider the. . . M-sentence, The proposition Peter is blond means Peter is blond, which, we remember, is analytic. To

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  • wonder or worry what it is about in case Peter is not blond amounts to exactly the same thing as wondering or worrying what it is raining or it isnt is about in case it rains.

    Eventually Bergmann becomes dissatisfied with this way of dealing with the problem. His dissatisfaction comes out most clearly in Realistic Postscript:

    No realistic ontology, we know, is adequate unless it provides an ontological ground for the connection between a thought ( b ) and its intention (P). In my world, the connection is the intentional tie (M) in MP. Since M and @l MP bothexist. . . . the connection is grounded. But I do not see how rPl MP could exist unless P has some ontological status.

    One might suppose from this quotation that Bergmann has repudiated the idea that the statement r p l Mp is analytic. Such, however, is not the case. His worry is much less obvious: it concerns the ontological status which is to be ascribed to the relata of logical relations (that is, such relations or connectives as v, &, M , and so on). Bergmann, in his later period, comes to think that even the logical relations require existent relata. In other words, he comes to think that, no matter what sort of connection is involved, the idea of somethings being connected to something else is incoherent in the case that one of the somethings is nonexistent. As a result, he is faced, once again, with the problem of entailment failure. For it is now the case that (I), via its analysis into (6) , entails (2). To put the problem nonlinguistically, Smiths thought that the cat is on the mat involves the propositional character that the cat is on the mat intending the fact that the cat is on the mat; and this fact now exists. (Facts, I should add, for Bergmann are extra-linguistic states of affairs as, e.g., in Russells Lectures on Logical Atomism).

    Bergmanns solution to the problem which he has, as it were, reinstated is to argue that more facts exist than those which are actual. As well as actual facts, there are possible facts. Actual facts are the existent nonlinguistic correlates of true statements; possible facts are the existent nonlinguistic correlates of false ones.4 This gambit permits him to argue that (1) does not entail (2) because the embedded intending statement, (7), is true regardless of whether or not (2) states an actual or a possible fact.

    At one level, of course, the later Bergmanns analysis is the same as the early one. For in each case (1) is unpacked in such a way that it entails an analytic intending statement. The differences arise with respect to the ontological grounding of analyticity. Whilst previously a statement such as (3) was held to be true in virtue of its having a certain logical form, it is now held to be true in virtue of its having a correlated fact which takes the value actual even in those cases in which a component fact takes the value possible.

    Concerning the distinction between actual and possible facts, the later Bergmann, alas, gives us perilously little information. It is certainly not the case that the former facts exist whilst the latter merely subsist. Indeed Bergmann tells us that he can make no sense of the notion of

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  • different levels of exi~tence.~ Rather, it seems to be the case that the distinction is purely contextual. That a given fact is actual is causally not categorically determined.

    It is with this baroque account of the intentionality of thought that the later Bergmann rests his case. What strikes one about the account and its development from the earlier view is the way in which Bergmann holds fast to the picture of thought as a sort of grappling-device. For having argued that it always takes two to grapple one would have supposed that the most natural course of action would be to reject the picture. But the picture is never questioned by Bergmann; it survives throughout his published work. What survives with it, I shall now argue, is the problem of entailment failure.

    I1

    In order to show that Bergmann does not satisfactorily resolve the problem which he confronts, I shall try to show that both of his analyses encounter serious difficulties. I shall begin with objections to the later view.

    Firstly, there is the astonishing claim that the logical connectives require ontological status. What such a claim is really meant to amount to is a little difficult to grasp. For one thing, it is quite impossible to experience (in any ordinary sense) the putative logical entities. For another, it naturally spawns several highly perplexing and extremely dubious questions concerning the individuation of logical states of affairs. And whether or not it is ultimately sensible even to raise such questions, it is surely wise to attempt an analysis which avoids them.

    Bergmanns defense of his position at this point consists of a rather peculiar kind of phenomenological appeal. The logical entities and the distinctions which they bear to one another are presented in thought. Consequently, one does indeed know through experience that such entities exist and thus experience itself can answer questions concerning their individuation. Claims like these strike one as a little desperate. Certainly, I am unable to undergo the form of presentation which is being appealed to here. And this, I feel sure, is not because my own experience is unduly limited but rather because the presentation which Bergmann is speaking of does not exist. It is, I suggest, a myth which finds its way into the Bergmannian analysis in order to provide an epistemological foundation for a suspect ontology.

    Secondly, there is the problematic distinction .between actual and possible states of affairs. I am not at all sure that I understand this distinction well enough to criticize its specific features. So long, however, as there is a distinction it seems to me that a serious puzzle emerges within the later Bergmannian analysis. The difficulty I have in mind here can be illustrated in the following way: if I erroneously think that Tom loves Mary then, on Bergmanns view, I have a psychological attitude which intends the possible fact that Tom loves Mary. This

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  • possible fact supposedly differs from the actual fact that Tom loves Mary. Surely, however, we must say that the content of my thought, i.e., what it is that I am thinking about when I erroneously think that Tom loves Mary would have been the same had Tom indeed loved Mary. Any of this, of course, we cannot say within the Bergmannian analysis; for had Tom indeed loved Mary my thought would have intended the actual fact that Tom loves Mary, and not the possible one.

    Thirdly, there is the very simple point that our ordinary conceptual framework has no place for possible existents. It may, I suppose, seem that this is rather too cavalier a way of dealing with the Bergmannian position. And I grant that it would be were Bergmann making revisionary or postulational proposals. That he is not, however, comes out in the following passage:

    If all intentions are to exist, how about those of false beliefs and false memories, which, as one says, do not exist?. . . The double quotes around exist mark the philosophical use that limits existence to the actual. In my world, we know, the intention of a false belief is a possibility and as such has ontological status (exists) . . .6

    Bergmann here is trying to persuade us that the existence of possible facts is a commonsensical matter and not a philosophical one. In reply, 1 can only say that Bergmann seems to me to be stretching the notion of commonsensical to such an extent that I find it unrecognizable.

    There are, I think, still other puzzles associated with the later Bergmannian analysis. I hope that I have said enough, however, to show that the fundamental strategy is flawed.

    I want now to turn to the early Bergmann. I mentioned in section one that the major reason for the rejection of the initial position is that Bergmann becomes dissatisfied with the ontological status of logic within that position. This may strike one neither as terribly compelling nor, indeed, as stemming from any internal difficulty which the analysis encounters with respect to the problem of entailment failure. And, thus, it may seem that the general sobriety of the early Bergmannian attempt offers more hope for an acceptable solution than his later exuberance. Upon closer examination, alas, such does not appear to be the case.

    Consider again the propositional predicate Ql . This predicate is syntactically complex: it is formed by placing the corner-quotes device around an indicative sentence. Paradoxically, it is used to stand for a simple character, a character, that is, which is not to be conceived of as having components, as capable of analysis. The resultant conflict is, I think, fatal to the early view. Let me explain.

    The syntactical complexity of the predicate T p l is not a dispensable symbolic luxury, for it is essential to the claim that the statement rpl Ms is analytic whenp is the same ass, and contradictory otherwise. If one were to replace the sign 51 by the sign 4, say, where the latter sign is not held to have a syntactical complexity, (h., is merely aformal equivalent of such unstructured phrases as the-propositional-character- that-the-cat-is-on-the-mat), then one would be able to replace the

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  • statement rpl Mp with the statement +Mp. One consequence, however, of such a replacement would be a loss of analyticity-&&@, in other words, would take on the role of a synthetic statement. The intentional relation, thus, would lose its peculiar, logical status and require existent relata. As a result, the problem of entailment failure would be incapable of solution without the reintroduction of possible states of affairs or some such substitutes. And hence the removal of a syntactical complexity within the signs for the propositional characters would bring with it all of the problems associated with the second view (or, at least, very similar ones).

    If, alternatively, we were to reject the unanalysability of the propositional characters, and instead conceive of them as having simple, nonrelational components, we would still, I think, be faced with similar difficulties. For if we were to define rpl via the schema

    (10) Tplx=*r G l x & q l x & r -y lx . . . . . then we would, of course, merely reintroduce the original conflict (although now at the level of hl , 9 , and r-yl ); whilst if we were to define it via the schema

    (11) rplx=drfx & g x & h x . . . then the syntheticity of intending statements would immediately re- emerge. I might perhaps add here that it is not, in any event, at all clear what the sign rpl means on the above accounts. The idea that the thought that the cat is on the mat contains within itself the propositional character that the cat is on the mat by virtue of which the thought focuses upon what it intends is, I suggest, radically obscure.

    One way in which the obscurity might be removed would be by using the phrase the propositional character that p to mean no more than the thought which intends thatp. This, then, would additionally secure the analyticity of the statement

    The propositional character that p intends that p

    since, as a result, it would become equivalent to the statement

    The thought which intends that p intends that p.

    The gambit, however, despite its initial attractiveness, leads to a dead- end. For the difficulty which surfaced in the previous accounts of the propositional character with respect to the second conjunct of (6), now re-appears with respect to the first. That is to say, relative to the new proposal, (6) can be re-written as

    (12) Smith has a thought which intends that the cat is on the mat, and the thought which intends that the cat is on the mat intends that the cat is on the mat;

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  • and it is now the first conjunct which is problematic. The salient point, of course, if that the first conjunct has become relational and thus, being synthetic, it requires the introduction of possibilities once again.

    It seems, therefore, that neither the early Bergmannian analysis nor its variants can be satisfactorily utilized in resolving the problem of entailment failure. (To conclude this section, let me quickly add an explanatory comment. Much of what I have said above against the early analysis is applicable mutatis mutandis to the later analysis too, since the analyticity of the statement $1 Mp is a feature which is common to both. The reason that I have made the objections in the context of the early view is that the analyticity of rpl Mp is not essential to the later view. If one holds that there are possible facts to serve as the relata of erroneous thoughts one can consistently hold (although Bergmann, in fact, does not) that intending is a synthetic, descriptive matter.)

    I11

    I want now to make a few very brief remarks on the genesis of the problem of entailment failure.

    My concern throughout the paper so far has been to stress how the problem is tied to a certain picture of the nature of thought. This picture, I suggest, is grounded in our intuitions: we intuitively believe that (1) is fundamentally relational in form. We do so, I suggest, because once we rewrite (1) as

    (13) Smith is thinking of the cats being on the mat

    (or some such substitute) we feel strongly inclined to view (1) as being structurally analogous to such genuinely relational statements as

    (14) Smith is standing to the left of the blackboard.

    And once the analogy takes hold of us, the feeling seems to survive the failure of ( 1 ) to behave as an ordinary, relational statement should. For instead of rejecting our intuition, we continue to view (1) as having same sort of relational character. It is, 1 suggest, at this point that we start to open the gate to the garden path. To keep the gate closed, to break the spell which has been cast by our assimilation of (1) to (14) we need to realize that our intuition has become an obsession. We need to break out of the picture which is holding us captive.

    Having said that, however, I should like to close by offering a comment or two upon the escape procedure. At one level, it seems to me that one can free oneself from a philosophical picture and the perplexities which it generates by passively repudiating the picture, by dismissing without further ado that way of conceptualizing things. At another level, though, it seems to me that philosophical pictures are not so easily disposed of. For I take it to be altogether too glib to simply give up certain presuppositions about some item, K, without proposing an

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  • alternative and positive characterization of the nature of K. What I think is required, therefore, to finally undercut the relational account of thought is a systematic successor theory which exhibits in detail the fundamental structure of discourse about thought. To find such a theory, I suggest that we look to the work of Wilfrid Sellars, to the treatment of thought as a verbal noun whose of- and that- phrases function as attributive adjectives. But that, of course, is another story.

    NOTES

    These views are most clearly stated in Intentionality, Meaning and Existence (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1959), pp. 3-39, and Acts, Logic and Reality (?adison: University of Wisconsin Press, IW), pp. 3-45.

    Acts, p. 40. Realistic Postscript, Logic and Reality, pp. 307-8. See, e.g., Diversity, Americon Philosophical Association, XLII (1968), p. 24.

    Ibid., p. 308. This treatment is essentially adverbial in character. For with the conversion of the

    verbal noun into a verb, the adjectival phrases become adverbs. Part of a closely related story is told in my The Adverbial Theory: A Defence of

    Sellars against Jackson, Metaphilosopby, VI (1975), pp. 136-143. See also W. Sellars, Science and Metaphysics, (London: Routledge, 1968).

    Realistic Postscript, p. 306.

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