kant on intentionality

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  • Kant on IntentionalityAuthor(s): Derk PereboomSource: Synthese, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Dec., 1988), pp. 321-352Published by: SpringerStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20116596 .Accessed: 01/04/2014 15:40

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    If we construe Kant's theory of mental representations as a theory of intentionality, we will discover a striking contrast between Kant's

    views and those of his predecessors. Whereas there is an important sense in which Hume and much of the tradition preceding him

    extensionalizes intentional relations, Kant does not. Reflection on how

    Kant manages to avoid extensionalism, and on his theory of in

    tentionality in general, provides us with an unusual and illuminating

    perspective on Kant's metaphysical and epistemological project.



    I will first review some fairly familiar concepts in the theory of

    intentionality which will be useful in understanding Kant's position. The hallmark of intentionality, according to many authors, is the

    directedness of a mind towards its object (taking 'object' in the

    broadest sense).1 Thinking, sensing, seeing, desiring, experiencing,

    loving, and grasping, are all, or at least all can be, intentional

    relations. The ones on which I want to focus, however, are the

    paradigmatic relations of the mind's awareness of an object, such as

    thinking and perceiving. One of Kant's projects is to provide an

    account of our having intentional relations to an object whose exis

    tence is apparently independent of its representations (as opposed to

    mere subjective states, mental episodes that lack intentionality). In this

    account, which we will examine in the next section, the notion of cause plays a central role, as it does in Kant's development of the

    anti-extensionalist view of intentionality. Most intentional relations, if they capture the first person perspec

    tive, can be distinguished by two characteristics which non-intentional

    relations lack. In specifying that an intentional relation capture the

    first person perspective, I mean to rule out Adam thinking about the

    evening star being the same relation as Adam thinking about the

    morning star when Adam's thought employs the concept 'the evening

    Synthese 11 (1988) 321-352. ? 1988 by Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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    star' and he doesn't know that the evening star and the morning star are identical. The first person perspective captures what the subject thinks, believes, and knows. The two distinguishing characteristics of

    typical intentional relations are these: first, they are prima facie

    existence-independent - that to which a mind is intentionally related

    need not exist. One can experience an oasis in a hallucination even

    though the oasis does not exist, and one can think of the non-existent

    present king of France. Second, intentional relations are prima facie

    concept-dependent - one can be intentionally related to an object

    under one concept or description which applies to it and not under

    another concept or description. One may think of Venus as the

    evening star and not as the morning star just as one may experience an

    apple as red on the outside and not as white on the inside. What

    accounts for the concept-dependent character of intentional relations

    is the possibility that there are characteristics of a thing of which one

    has no cognition or knowledge. From other perspectives intentional

    relations might not appear to have these two characteristics. From a

    different perspective, the intentional relation Eve thinking about the

    river may not differ from Eve thinking about the Euphrates, supposing Eve doesn't know that the river in question is the Euphrates. But if

    they capture the first person perspective, intentional relations are

    typically concept-dependent and existence-independent. What seems to follow from this is that sentences which report

    intentional relations capturing the first person perspective are typically not extensional, which is to say that they are intensional.2 There are

    some difficulties involved in moving from discourse about intentional

    relations to the semantic level, the level of discourse about sentences

    reporting intentional relations. Yet I think that this move is worth

    while because it allows one to link Kant's views about the concept

    dependence and existence-independence of intentional relations to

    perhaps a more familiar tradition in philosophy. Two conditions that

    characterize extensional sentences are that in them co-referential

    expressions can be substituted for one another salva veritate and that

    they are subject to existential generalization. Intensional sentences

    lack one or both of these conditions. Sentences which report in

    tentional relations capturing the first person perspective usually don't

    satisfy either of them. As sentences reporting intentional relations

    capturing the first person perspective, 'Adam is thinking about the

    evening star' does not imply 'Adam is thinking about the morning

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    star', nor 'The evening star exists'. The sentence 'Adam is thinking about the evening star' can be assigned an extensional reading, but on

    this reading there remains an obvious sense in which sentences logic

    ally derivable from this one do not express what the subject believes

    and knows. Following the tradition, let us call the parts of sentences

    for which substitution of co-referential expressions salva veritate and

    existential generalization fails intensional contexts.

    What is it to explain or give a theory of intentional relations? Part of

    the answer for many of the great philosophers is that such an explana tion consists in analyzing intentional relations capturing the first

    person perspective as extensional, redescribing the intensional con

    texts in them in such a way that the resulting sentence is extensional.

    The pre-Kantian history of philosophy presents three general strate

    gies for doing this. The first is the Aristotelian strategy, propounded

    by Aquinas and others, according to which an intentional relation to a

    thing is redescribed as two relations, the subject's apprehension or

    grasp of a form, and the form's standing for the thing intended. On

    Aquinas's theory, a sensory form is received by a sense organ and is

    apprehended in sensation. Then the intelligible form is abstracted from

    the sensible form by the intellect and is apprehended in cognition. The

    form is in effect the intermediary between the subject and the object, that is, the subject is related to it and it is related to the object. Sentences accurately describing both of these relations which capture the first person perspective will thus be extensional. There is no such

    thing as a non-existent form to which the subject can be related, so the

    subject is never related to a non-existent object. The relation of

    subject to form may be intentional in that it is a relation of ap

    prehension of a mind to an object, but a proposition or sentence which

    reports it, like

    (1) Adam apprehends the form of the evening star.

    contains no intensional context.3 Sentences describing the relation

    between a form and an ordinary object are also extensional; whether it

    be resemblance, sameness, or exemplification, none of these relations

    have the two distinguishing features that typical intentional relations


    Another theory of intentionality of this type emerged from Aristo

    telian theory in the views of Ockham and Locke. In this kind of view

    the intermediary entity is not a form but a sensible idea in the mind.5

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    On Locke's version of this theory sentences accurately describing the

    mind's relation (the relation capturing the first person perspective) to