Intentionality, Minds and Behavior

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  • Intentionality, Minds and BehaviorAuthor(s): Robert BinkleySource: Nos, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Feb., 1969), pp. 49-60Published by: WileyStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 00:47

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  • Intentionality, Minds and Behavior


    In December of 1962, a symposium was held at Wayne State University on the philosophy of mind; the papers, comments and rejoinders of that affair are now published in Intentionality, Minds and Perception, ed. Hector-Neri Castanfeda (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967). The papers are of high quality, and are close enough to each other in subject matter that a reader inter- ested in any one of the papers will very likely also be interested in some of the others, but, except for a pervading spirit of antago- nism to the simpler reductionisms, the book exhibits no deeper unity. It is a heap of bricks rather than a wall, and a critic who does not undertake to be a mason has no recourse but to examine them one by one.

    Roderick Chisholm's "On Some Psychological Concepts and the 'Logic' of Intentionality" is one of the most important essays in the book, and the controversy engendered by it has long since spilled over into the pages of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1963 and 1964) and elsewhere. It is mainly an attempt to define in logical terms a concept of intentionality that will per- mit us to say that all and only psychological concepts are inten- tional. Intensionality, i.e., nonextensionality, will clearly not serve, for such concepts as obligation and necessity are intensional with- out being psychological. (It is unfortunate that one of the numerous misprints in this book has darkened Chisholm's statement of this point by putting an "intentional" in place of an "intensional" in the midst of it: (page 11, line 11). Chisholm's concern is with the in- tentionality of modal prefixes, or sentence forming operators on sentences such as "It is true that . . ." and "Jones believes that . . .", and he here seeks a criterion based on the logical properties of the


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    combination of modal prefixes and quantifiers. Restricting his at- tention to the simple case in which there is a single prefix and a single quantifier, the scope of each reaching to the end of the sentence, Chisholm has four forms to consider for any modal prefix M.

    (1) M(x)Fx universal, in sensu composito (UC)

    (2) (x) MFx universal, in sewnu diviso (UD)

    (3) M( 3 x)Fx existential, in sensu composito (EC)

    (4) ( 3 x) MFx existential, in sensu diviso (ED)

    The symbolic representation is mine; the Latin tags and the labels are Chisholm's.

    It is possible to catalogue the entailment relations between these four forms for any modal prefix. Chisholm presents these in matrix tables, but I shall simply list the fundamental entailments for the prefix, the rest being assumed to follow by the transitivity of the entailment relation. Assuming, as Chishohm always does, that the universe is not empty, we will have the following entail- ment for every prefix, as an instance of a truth of the logic of quantifiers:

    (a) (x)MFX - (3 x)MFx

    The pattern of entailments consisting simply of this one may be called the minimum pattern. Robert Sleigh, in his comments, sug- gests that the minimum pattern is characteristic of "S believes that . . .", but fails to win Chisholm's assent. In his original paper, Chisholm had added the following to the minimum pattern to form the pattern for belief:

    (b) M(x)Fx > (3 x)MFx

    (c) ( 3 x)MFx > M( 3 x)Fx In his rejoinder to Sleigh, he drops (b) while retaining (c). In each case he finds that every prefix conforming to the belief pattern is psychological.

    Sleigh urges the dropping of (b) and (c) from the pattern for belief on the grounds that they rest on an inappropriate assump- tion about the rationality of believers. Chisholm admits at once to the inappropriateness of such an assumption; in fact, in another part of his essay he has considered criteria of intentionality that

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    rest directly upon the possibility that believers may have contra- dictory beliefs. But he takes this objection to apply only to (b), not to (c). On this point, I think, Chisholm is mistaken.

    Chisholm defends (c) by appealing (p.17) to the thesis that "to believe with respect to anything x that x has a certain property F is, in part to least, to believe that there exists an x such that x has that property F." This is a thesis which, he suggests, only the likes of Meinong would reject. But I think it can be seen that this thesis is simply a rationality assumption in disguised form.

    To see this, consider first how the rationality assumption figures in (b). If we try to spell out the thinking that would justify (b), it would presumably go something like this. Chisholm says, (p.18), that he sees no need to shape his theory to allow for the possibility of a man who believes the universe to be empty, or who "is able to refer to everything without in fact being able to refer to anything." This means, presumably, that the theory assumes that a man who believes that every thing is F, and thereby "refers to everything", will also be able to refer to something; i.e., there will be some things to which he can refer. Each of these things will have to be believed by the rational subject to be F; otherwise he will be in violation of the logical law of universal instantiation. But if he believes an item to be F, then this will warrant our saying that there is something that he believes to be F, by existential generalization. That is, we justify (b) by an appeal to the subject's use of one logical law followed by our own use of another. But to trust the subject to obey a logical law is to make a rationality assumption.

    An entirely similar justification for (c) can be constructed. If there is something believed by the subject to be F, then by existential instantiation it follows that there must be an x such that it would be true to say that he believes that x is F. But the rational subject will from this come by existential generalization to believe that there is something which is F. Here, our use of existential in- stantiation is to be followed by the subject's use of existential gen- eralization, and again we are relying on the subject to abide by a logical law.

    To be sure, the step which I have described as the subject's use of existential generalization might also be described as a case of Chisholm's thesis, cited above, about belief. But it seems to me that this just goes to show that Chisholm's thesis is really a dis- guised assumption about the subject's mastery of certain elementary

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    principles of logic. And there is room for a deeper observation here. Chisholm's anti-Meinong thesis, and the use he makes of it, shows up very clearly the two aspects of the customary use of the existen- tial quantifier, existence and generality. It is plausible to say, with Chisholm and against Meinong, that in order for us to say that a man believes with respect to a thing x that it has the property F, the thing must really exist and he must believe that it does. Nobody, on this view, not even the most innocent child, has any beliefs at all with respect to Santa Claus because there is no such person; Santa Claus beliefs fail to find a target, and must be analysed in some more round about away. Similarly, an over-sceptical play- goer who believes that Richard III is nothing more than a fictional character in Shakespeare's play, could not be said to have any beliefs at all with respect to Richard III; there is a target there, but it is not being aimed at. But this contrast between the really existent and the in some way fictional is not the same as the con- trast between the singular and the general, and believing that a thing is real is not the same as believing that something has what- ever property one has ascribed to it. The former is, if we reject Meinong, involved in our believing anything at all with respect to the thing; the latter is connected to a singular belief with respect to the thing by a logical law, a law which irrational people may flout.

    Once the rationality assumption is abandoned, it is quite easy to think up counter-examples to (c). For example, it is not obvi- ously inconceivable that a subject should acquire his logical con- cepts in the order in which they are usually presented in logic books, and so at some point be at the stage at which he has the conceptual equipment for singular beliefs, but not that required for general beliefs. Such a subject might believe that his mother is at home, and so justify us in saying that there is someone whom he believes to be at home; but, lacking the concept of existential quantification, he would be incapable of believing that there is someone at home. And then again, even if he had the concepts, he might still fail, inconsistently, to form the general belief.

    Chisholm often talks as if singular reference in beliefs could always be accounted for by Russellian definite description. This might seem to offer a way out. Certainly if this were so, singular beliefs would be logically more complex than the corresponding general beliefs, and it would appear that my counter-example to (c) based on a subject with incomplete conceptual equipment

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    would not arise. But even so, a rationality assumption would enter into (c). For now when we say that there is something which the subject believes to be F, we imply that there is some property G such that he believes that the G is F. But how are we to move from this to the conclusion that the subject believes that there is something which is F? Only, I think, by exploiting the logical truth that "There is something that is F" is implied by "The G is F." But to make use of this inside the scope of a belief operator is clearly to assume some degree of rationality in the believer. Without that, the man who believes that the G is F without believing that something is F is not impossible; only inconsistent.

    I conclude from all this that the pattern for belief in general, as contrasted with rational belief, is the minimum one containing only the entailment (a). And since, as Chisholm has pointed out, elsewhere, this pattern is shared by the nonpsychological prefix "it is morally indifferent whether . . . ," the attempt along these lines to make the intentional coincide with the psychological must be counted a failure. But there are many moves still to be made in this area, and perhaps a more general moral-one suggested by Sleigh-should be drawn. For from all this it seems clear that no treatment of the logic of the four forms considered by Chisholm can be finally satisfactory until it is imbedded in a larger theory which takes account as well of singular beliefs, and the connected problems of transparency, opacity, identity, and of singular refer- ence in general.

    While Chisholm's paper remains wholly on the plane of logic, all the rest are concerned in one way or another with the causal connexion, or lack of it, between mental phenomena and external events. This is notably the case with William Alston's "Wants, Ac- tions, and Causal Explanations", which deals with the question whether actions can be causally explained in terms of wants and beliefs. This is a question that has been widely discussed in recent years, both from the point of view of the analysis of ordinary con- cepts and from the point of view of a possible limitation on the development of scientific psychology. Alston considers mainly the second issue, and endeavours to show that there is no reason in principle why a psychological theory should not be developed in which actions are causally explained by the agent's beliefs and wants. He considers in particular possible theories along the lines of a model of human action put forward by the psychologist Tol- man. This model, a dressing up in technical terminology of the

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    idea that for various reasons people have desires and will take ad- vantage of opportunities to satisfy them, is given by a diagram in which we see independent variables such as heredity, drive condi- tions and stimulus situation determine, (an arrow is drawn in the diagram), a complex structure of intervening variables such as t-he need system, the belief-value matrix and the immediate behavior space, which in turn finally determines the dependent variable, behavior or action. Fortunately, it is not Alston's purpose to defend this as a psychological theory. (Nor was it Tolman's). His point is the weaker one that it is conceivable that some theory along these lines might be developed, and the question is whether the explanations stemming from such a theory could properly be called causal explanations of human action.

    But in considering this question, we must bear in mind the obstacles that would need to be overcome in constructing such a theory. They are formidable, though not, Alston claims, insuperable in principle. Chief among them, at least from the conceptual point of view, is the need to divide up the agent's beliefs, wants and so on into units of some sort, and to find a way of representing these units mathematically by constellations of positions on some set of dimensions, as is done in other sciences. Now it is hard not to agree that such a reduction of the human predicament to equations is conceivable, whatever the practical difficulties. What needs point- ing out is that this will involve a radical reconceptualization. This is important here because of the doubt it casts on Alston's claim that such a theory would generate causal explanations of action. To see this we must note that Alston envisages his explanations as con- forming broadly to the covering law pattern of explanation, and that consequently he must have in mind a piece of reasoning with laws and descriptions of antecedent conditions as premises and a description of someone acting as conclusion. Unless such an action description stands as the conclusion of the explanation we will not have an explanation of human action, in the strong sense of that phrase in which the possibility of such explanations has been chal- lenged by recent writers, yet it is by no means clear that a sentence representing a man's behavior by a constellation of positions on a set of dimensions describes the man as doing something in that strong sense. In that sense, it seems to me, a man has not done some-thing unless he knew that he was doing it, which means that when we set out to describe a man's actions we must restrict our- selves to the action concepts possessed by the agent. One can easily

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    imagine a case, for example, in which on this sort of ground, it would be correct to say that a child pushed down a certain pedal but incorrect to say that he applied the brake. Description of action requires a shared conceptual apparatus between agent and de- scriber and this is also true for explaining action. If the recon- ceptualization required by Alston's theory, therefore, is sufficiently -radical, (and admittedly it is not very clear at the moment just how radical it would have to be,) it will not be correct to say that his theory explains the action of an ordinary agent, though it might explain something extensionally equivalent, in some sense, to his action.

    Of course, the theory could still explain the actions of an agent who has learned the theory and who thinks of his actions in its terms. And even that would give Alston part of what he wants, for to admit that much is to admit that it is conceivable that some actions can be causally explained and consequently to admit that there is nothing intrinsically impossible about such explanations; but I think that Alston is after the stronger thesis that it is con- ceivable that all actions should be causally explainable.

    It is also possible that the theory might take explicit account of t-his conceptualization problem,'and give an explanation why the agent did A-conceived-as-B, A being the theoretical description of the action and B the agent's. But this would not be the same as simply explaining the action.

    If it is true that actions in the strong sense must be described and explained in the conceptual system in which they are con- ceived by the agent, then it follows that the actions of the ordinary man must be described and explained in the conceptual system of everyday life, and if this is so the question whether explanations of his actions can be causal hinges on the question whether ex- planations of action in everyday life, or at any rate explanations frameable in such terms, can be causal. Alston raises this question in his paper only to pass over it, though he indicates that in his view it is plausible to suppose that ordinary explanations of action stand to the explanations of his psychological theory as ordinary ex- planations of physical events stand to the explanations derivable from physical theory. However, a large part of Alston's paper is devoted to refuting arguments which, if successful, would show that neither explanations of action in everyday terms nor those from a psychological theory could be causal; to that extent he is de- fending the causal character of both kinds of explanation. He makes

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    a number of very valuable and important points in this connection. He points out for example that nothing is decided by appeal to our ordinary use of the word "cause" in talking about actions. The ques- tion is rather whether the explanation exhibits the action as a function of laws and antecedent conditions in a way that would in principle permit prediction of the action, which is roughly what Alston holds, rightly, that the relevant idea of causal explanation boils down to.

    But more important than this is Alston's examination of the claim that the connection between wanting and acting is logical and so cannot be causal. He meets it head on. If the connection is a logical one then there ought to be a logically true proposition to the effect that whenever anyone wants to do X and believes that doing Y would put him in the best possible position for doing X he will do Y; but clearly, Alston points out, before anything like this could pretend to be a truth of logic many qualifications would have to be inserted. For example, something would have to be put in about the agent being able and thinking himself able to do Y, something about his not being emotionally upset, and so on. But even when a statement sufficiently complex to be plausible is con- structed, the question will still remain how we can be sure that it is a truth of logic. We cannot be satisfied to rely on intuitions, and so if our proposition is to be shown to express a truth of logic it must be grounded in definitions, presumably the definition of "want". Dispositional definitions of "want" based on the idea that to want something is the same as to be disposed to try and get it have been proposed and would give us an appropriate truth of logic, but Alston maintains that any such definition would be mistaken. He notes that there are at least three manifestations of a want: the tendency of the want to influence action, the tendency of the agent to avow his want and the tendency of the want to influence the patterns of his thought and discourse as in free as- sociation tests. It would be a mistake to select any one of these as the definition of wanting. Instead, we should say that our use of the term "want" is subject to the assumption that these three indica- tions of desire will generally agree; if and when they don't agree we will not know what to say. He compares this to Waismann's "open texture" account of such terms as "gold".

    These are sound and important points as far as they go, but I think we must go farther than Alston does in this paper. A con- cept such as that of wanting is not simply the common focus of a

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    number of logically distinct indications; there is more to concepts such as these than how we tell when to apply them. What this more is can be understood, I think, by regarding them as playing a role in a conceptual structure of the language of everyday that is analogous to a scientific theory. We might call it the common sense -theory of human action. Our allegedly logically true proposition to the effect that people try to get what they want figures in that -theory as a law. It is one of the laws that go to give meaning to the terms in it, in particular the term "want". The term "want", therefore, as a theory laden term, will require a complex analysis, perhaps one not unlike Castanieda's account of "pain" discussed below. But if something like this is correct then the explanations of human action provided by this common sense theory will have as much right to be called causal as any scientific explanations, and we will be able to defend the idea that wants provide causal ex- planations of actions at the level of common sense; we will not need to appeal to possible future theories of psychology to establish that point.

    Keith Lehrer in his comments niggles at Alston's account of Z'causal" as determining by law and antecedent conditions without, I think, making much headway. But he scores with the major point of his remarks, which is that Alston cannot properly claim to have refuted the views expounded in Melden's Free Action because it is not possible to determine with sufficient precision what those views are.

    I shall be more brief in my consideration of the remaining papers. In fact, seizing on the excuse that they have already ap- peared in collections of essays by their respective authors, I shall not discuss at all A.J. Ayer's "The Concept of a Person" and Wil- frid Sellars' "Phenomenalism", except to remark that in the com- ments by Edmund Gettier and Bruce Aune and in the rejoinders some additional light is shed on the rather intricate arguments of these papers.

    The arguments of Castanieda's "Consciousness and Behavior: Their Basic Connections" are also quite intricate, and I shall not attempt to summarize it. Commenting on it, Leonard Linsky re- marks that from the point of view of recent revolutions in philoso- phy, Castanfeda reveals himself as a counter-revolutionary, or even a reactionary, a charge to which Castanieda cheerfully pleads guilty in his rejoinder. Castanieda is so reactionary, in fact, as to hold that while each of us has incorrigible knowledge of our own experiences,

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    the experiences of others have for us the status of theoretical enti- ties. The concept of pain, for example, is a running together of a concept of pain as what is known in immediate experience, a con- cept of pain as a theoretical entity lying behind and causing the pain behavior of others and myself, and a concept of pain as a theoretical entity lying behind (and causing?) the "I am in pain" utterances of others and myself. (He does not discuss a concept of pain as something caused by damage to organisms.) The theorizing involved in the postulation of these theoretical entities rests on contingent features of our world, and there is no conceptual neces- sity about it; it is conceptually possible that all the rest of you are automata.

    The arguments are presented with the aid of a formidable technical terminology and meta-philosophical apparatus, and with this, as with a machine gun on savages, he mows downs behav- iorists, Wittgensteinians and Strawsonians. It is clearly up to these victims, arming themselves perhaps with captured weapons, to re- turn to the battle on this new level of sophistication.

    Hilary Putnam's essay, "The Mental Life of Some Machines", is a sequel to his contribution to the symposium, Dimensions of Mind, edited by Sidney Hook. Here he seeks to refute Cartesian dualism, materialism and behaviorism by showing that these the- ories will not work even for machines. He does this by showing that the concept of preference appropriate to a finite Turing machine, endowed with utility functions and the capacity to interact with the environment, is a concept having to do with the "functional organization" of the machine, and that consequently it would be a mistake to link the concept definitially either, as in materialism, with the material out of which the machine is made, or, as in behaviorism, with the pattern of responses to be expected of the machine. Dualism is out, of course, because the machines do not have Cartesian minds in addition to their bodies.

    We can appreciate the objection to materialism by noting that the same machine, from the point of view of its preferences, can be embodied in different materials. But I think we must also note that the kind of definitional materialism that can be refuted by this sort of consideration, is, as Putnam points out, by now a straw man; indeed, it is not easy to see how it even deserves the epithet "tradi- tional", which he uses of it.

    The argument against behaviorism is based on the idea that a machine with ordinary preferences and severed "pain fibers" will

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    exhibit the same anaesthetized behavior as a machine with intact pain fibers and a pathological preference that attaches infinite weight to concealing that fact. The difference in preference would be discovered by looking at the tapes, but not by observing the behavior alone. However, definitional behaviorism is also pretty much a straw man. As was suggested in the discussion of Alston's paper, our talk about preferences and other mental phenomena does not merely describe actual and potential behavior; it also serves to give explanations, (causal ones, in fact), of the behavior. And this being so, the possibility must always be allowed for that qualita- tively identical behavior may in different cases require different explanations, which is what we have with our two machines.

    Under the pressure of Alvin Plantinga's comments, Putnam says a little more, though not very much more, about what he means by "functional organization". This is an interesting notion, and de- serves a much fuller treatment. One almost feels that Putnam is an Aristotelian maintaining that the soul of a machine is its form.

    Causal connections between the mind and the world arise again in Roderick Firth's "The Men Themselves; or the Role of Causation in our Concept of Seeing", but in a rather different way. Firth is interested in the causal considerations which enter into our everyday concept of seeing. In particular, he examines the idea that a certain causal relationship, "direct light-connection", between an observer and an object is a necessary and sufficient condition for saying that the observer sees the object. Difficulties abound. We want to say, with Descartes, that it is really the hats and cloaks we see, not the men themselves, presumably on the ground that no part of the men themselves is directly light-connected with us. But on the other hand, it is correct also to say that we see the men. Perhaps the men we say we see are composite objects with men in the strict sense at the core and clothes on the outside. Yet there is a difference between such a composite object and others, such as an egg, which is brought out by the fact that we cannot in any sense be said to see the yolk when we look at an unbroken egg. Firth suggests that the difference can be traced to the nature of the causal relationship between core and shell in these objects; the men give shape and movement to the clothes, but the yolk does not have any influence on the appearance of the shell. We arrive at this same causal relationship if we try to account for seeing the men, not by making them into composite objects, but instead by claim- ing that we are indirectly light-connected with them. But the pre-

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    cise character of this important causal relationship is not at all easy to define. We can be said, for example, to see a boat on the shore when there is a tarpaulin draped over it, but not when there is a tent erected over it, and there is a continuum between these two cases. And our concept of seeing is indeterminate in such a way that the nature of the causal relationship required will vary with con- text. We may agree that we see the draped boat when we are in- terested in its location, but not when we are interested in its color. But none of these difficulties, says Firth, are enough to refute the claim that some kind of causal connection with an object is a neces- sary condition for our being said to see it.

    Further difficulties arise when we ask whether it is a suffi- cient condition. We would appear to be directly light-connected with the sun when we gaze at it with closed eyes since the light from the sun influences our visual experience. Yet it would not be said that we see the sun under those circumstances. But if we say that the light-connection in that case is not sufficiently direct be- cause of the interposition of a medium, we are going to have trouble with seeing things through telescopes and in mirrors.

    This is a fascinating paper. There is clearly something to the causal theory of perception. If in perception we do not enter into a causal relationship with the environment so that our perceptual experience depends in some regular way on environmental condi- tions, it will be hard to justify the belief that perception is an avenue to knowledge about the world. It is refreshing to see the problems of that theory considered in such a sympathetic and de- tailed way.

    In his comments, Charles Caton concludes, after an examina- tion of the use of intensive pronouns, that Descartes ought not to have said that he did not see the men themselves; he should rather have said that he didn't see their faces. But this point, whatever its merits, does not elicit any very helpful reply from Firth.

    A consideration of the book as a whole suggests several con- clusions. First, symposia of this kind are a good thing, and so is their publication. There are values to be gained from the paper- comments-rejoinder format that are lost when papers are published independently. Second, it is better to have the proceedings pub- lished soon after the event. Some of the impact of this book will be lost because discussion has already moved beyond some of the positions expressed in it. Finally, it is clear that we live in a very bright period in the history of the philosophy of mind.

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    Article Contentsp. 49p. 50p. 51p. 52p. 53p. 54p. 55p. 56p. 57p. 58p. 59p. 60

    Issue Table of ContentsNos, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Feb., 1969), pp. 1-108Volume InformationFront MatterThe Two Notions of the Passage of Time [pp. 1-16]Tense Logic! Why Bother? [pp. 17-32]Existence Entailing Attributes, Modes of Copulation and Modes of Being in Second Order Logic [pp. 33-48]Intentionality, Minds and Behavior [pp. 49-60]Aspects of the Pragmatics of Explanation [pp. 61-72]Chisholm's Epistemic Principles [pp. 73-82]What is Wrong with Fodor and Putnam's Functionalism [pp. 83-93]Species, Determinates and Natural Kinds [pp. 95-101]Remarks on the Concept of Distribution in Traditional Logic [pp. 103-108]Errata: Finitude and Infinitude in the Atomic Calculus of IndividualsBack Matter


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