On the Indispensability of Intentionality

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  • Canadian Journal of Philosophy

    On the Indispensability of IntentionalityAuthor(s): Harold MorickSource: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Sep., 1972), pp. 127-133Published by: Canadian Journal of PhilosophyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40230380 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 22:07

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  • CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY Volume II, Number 1, September 1972

    On the Indispensability of

    Intentionality* HAROLD MORICK, S.U.N.Y., Albany

    1. In the last two decades, there has been a great deal of interest in providing an intentional criterion of the psychological. Of the various ones proferred, it seems to me that the best was the earliest, which was Chisholm's initial criterion in his 1955

    essay "Sentences about Believing."1 In this present paper I first

    single out a basic misconception pervading the recent literature on intentionality and suggest that a consequence of this mis-

    conception has been the futile attempt to use the notion of in-

    tentionality to provide a kind of definition of "mind"; that is, to use intentionality to provide a necessary and sufficient con- dition for the psychological. Secondly, I point out how intentiona-

    lity as captured by my own criterion is indispensable in that it is an essential property of certain particulars (persons) which are basic to our conceptual scheme and apparently basic to any conceptual scheme whatsoever.

    2. I do not intend to review the many well-known objections to the earlier criteria. Instead, let me begin by singling out a

    misconception common in the literature and nowhere challenged therein: The attempts of Brentano and of recent philosophers to

    provide an intentional criterion of the psychological seem to rest on too narrow a conception of the psychological. What an intentional criterion is to provide, generally, is an explicit characterization of those verbs or predicates which ascribe states of conscious- ness to an entity or which at least imply consciousness on the

    part of that to which they are ascribed, i.e., psychological verbs

    * This work was supported by a SUNY Faculty Research Fellowship. 1 R. Chisholm, "Sentences about Believing", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1955-56).


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  • Harold Morick On the Indispensability of Intentionality

    or predicates. But an entire class of these verbs has been systemati- cally ignored or misinterpreted by such philosophers of intentiona- lity as Brentano, Chisholm, and most recently, Lycan.2 This class consists of those verbs denoting activities which must have an

    existing spatio-temporal particular as their object. This miscon-

    ception is succinctly expressed in Chisholm's report of Brentano's contrast between psychological and merely physical activities:

    "I can look for him when he is not there, but not hang him when he is not there." The first of these activities, Brentano would have said, is intentional; it may take as its object something which does not exist. But the second activity is "merely physical"; it cannot be performed unless its object is there to work with.3

    Again, from Chisholm:

    Our psychological activities- thinking, believing, desiring, loving, hating, and the like-are "directed upon" objects, Brentano said, in a way that distinguishes them from anything that is merely physical. Whenever we think, we think about some object; whenever we believe, there is something we be- lieve. But the objects of these activities need not exist in order to be such objects; the things upon which these activities are directed, or to which they refer, need not exist in order thus to be directed upon or referred to. No physical phenomenon, according to Brentano, has this type of freedom; the objects of our physical activities are restricted to what does exist. We can desire or think about horses that don't exist, but we can ride on only those that do.4

    But are hanging a man and riding a horse merely physical activities? I think it is clear that they are not. To say of an entity that it hanged a man or rode a horse is to imply of it a state of mind or at least consciousness in general. Verbs such as these are non-intentional psychological verbs. Other examples of non- intentional psychological verbs which denote activities which must have existing spatio-temporal particulars as their objects are "intimidating", "examining", "cheating", "double-crossing", "serving", "scolding", "rebuking", 'twitting", "joshing", "need-

    ling". This means that if we concern ourselves with characterizing

    activities which can take as their objects things which don't exist, we can at most provide a sufficient condition of the

    psychological; we cannot provide a condition which is necessary

    2 F. Brentano, "The Distinction between Mental and Physical Phenomena", from Psychology from the Empirical Standpoint (Vienna; 1874); reprinted in Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind ed. Morick (Clenview: 1970), pp. 119-120; K. Lycan, "On Intentionality and the Psychological" American

    Philosophical Quarterly (1969), p. 310; R. Chisholm, "Intentionality" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, V. (New York, 1966), p. 203.

    3 R. Chisholm, "Sentences about Believing", loc. cit., p. 125. 4 R. Chisholm, "Editor s Introduction in Realism and the Background of Phenomenology (Glencoe: I960), p. 4.


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  • Harold Morick On the Indispensability of Intentionality

    as well as sufficient. Thus we must reject the belief, held by Brentano and by linguistic philosophers of intentionality, that in- tentionality may define the psychological. This belief seems reasonable only if one presumes too narrow a conception of the psychological.

    It is worth adding that we must also reject the belief that intentionality may define the mental, where "mental" is used to refer to all and only those psychological concepts which possibly entail no overt or bodily behavior. For, on the one hand, we can engage in intentional activities such as portraying and writing only if we do something overt or bodily; on the other hand, we may be able to engage in certain non-intentional activities such as recalling, missing, and mourning without doing anything bodily.

    Let me now turn to the indispensability of the intentional.

    3. In order to see that intentionality is indispensable to our conceptual scheme, we need a clear characterization of inten- tionality. Elsewhere I have given two characterizations of inten- tionality, both in terms of the existence status of the intentional object; whereas one is in terms of the atemporal sense of "exists", the variant is in terms of the temporal sense of "exists".5 Because the dating of events presents certain general problems which complicate the temporal-existence account, I shall here present just the atemporal account.

    I take intentionality to be a relationlike property exhibited by certain mental activities - i.e., some of our actions and under- goings - but by no physjcal activities whatsoever. We may dream of, look for, write about,' worship things which don't exist. On the other hand, if a physical activity has an object at all, it must exist: while men can look for Excalibur whether or not it is ex- tant or even fictitious, the sun can shine on Excalibur only if it is nonf ictitious and extant.

    Instead of talking in the material mode of objects which may or may not exist, I shall speak in the formal mode of nouns and descriptive phrases which may or may not refer to anything. Furthermore I shall call a simple declarative sentence a basic sentence if it is of the grammatical form subject-verb-object, if its verb is an indicative-mood, active-voice occurrence verb, and if its subject and object are proper nouns or definite descriptive phrases. With this much said, we can formulate a sufficient condi- tion for the intentional, and by transitivity, of the psychological:

    5 H. Morick, "Intentionality, Intensionality and the Psychological", Analysis (December, 1971).


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  • Harold Morick On the Indispensability of Intentionality

    A verb is intentional if there is a basic sentence containing it such that it is not a truth condition for either the sentence or its negation that the object of the verb succeed of reference or that it fail of reference. A basic sentence using an intentional verb reports a psychological occurrence, and any sentence whatsoever which uses (as opposed to mentions) an inten- tional verb deals with what is psychological.

    Some intentional verbs are: "looking for", "expecting", "thinking of", "envisaging", "imagining", "desiderating", and "worship- ping". Some nonintentional verbs are "melting", "defoliating", "magnetizing", and "colliding with".

    Let us see, for example, how "looks for" satisfies our intentional criterion by considering the following two sentences:

    (1) Schliemann looked for the site of Troy. (2) Schliemann looked for the pencil behind his ear.

    Since (1) may be true regardless of whether or not there is a site of Troy at all, "looks for" is an intentional verb. For, on my criterion, if an occurrence verb satisfies the intentionality con- dition in some basic sentence then it is a psychological verb, and any sentence whatsoever in which the verb is used is a

    psychological sentence. Thus, (2), as well as (1), reports a psy- chological occurrence even though (2), in contrast to (1), is a basic sentence which is true only if its object-expression succeed of reference. The point here intuitively- and put in the ad-

    mittedly misleading material mode - is that though we do "have in mind" or direct attention to objects which do exist as well as to those which may not exist, that an object in fact exists doesn't alter the character of the way in which we are directed upon it. Schliemann's searching for the site of Troy would have been just what it was had there been no site of Troy. To return to the formal mode, the task verbs "looking for" and "searching" do not have one sense when they are followed by the success verb

    "finding" and another when they are not so followed. Although not all nonbasic sentences which use "looks for"

    report psychological occurrences, all nonbasic sentences using this verb do deal with the psychological. Let me illustrate what I mean by "deal with" here. Some philosophers are of the opinion that an intentional criterion of the psychological ought to exclude from the class of psychological sentences those which are negative, since these don't report psychological states or events.6 To see

    6 Ryle has expressed this opinion to me. J. Kim has expressed this opinion in print in his "Materialism and the Criteria of the Mental", Synthese (1971), p. 342.


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  • Harold Morick On the Indispensability of Intentionality

    that this opinion is misguided, let us see how my own criterion ought to be interpreted for negative sentences. Here are two negative sentences:

    (3) Schliemann was not thinking of Vienna. (4) This stone is not thinking of Vienna.

    Providing it is significant, (4) no less than (3) deals with the psychological since it asserts that a particular psychological property fails to be exemplified by a certain individual. Similarly, in one way or another, contrary-to-fact conditionals, interrogatives, and all other nonbasic sentences using intentional verbs all deal with the psychological.

    Now we are in a position to see what the place of inten- tionality is within our conceptual scheme. Among other things no doubt, it constitutes as essential property of certain particulars basic to our scheme - namely, persons.

    Some philosophers, Strawson among them, have stated that a person is an entity which necessarily has psychological attributes.7 But these philosophers have left us unable to assess this claim because they have failed to provide a way of picking out psy- chological attributes. A common - indeed, an almost universal -

    complaint lodged against Strawson is that he provides no way of picking out psychological attributes. As we have seen, my criterion does provide a way for picking out at least a sub-class of psy- chological attributes

    - the intentional ones. However, this is not just any old sub-class; for while inten-

    tionality is not a necessary condition for a state, event or process to be psychological or mental, it is a necessary condition for an individual or particular to be a person. Could there be someone who is never engaged in any intentional activity whatsoever? As Hume might put it, it seems impossible to answer this question in the affirmative without a manifest contradiction and absurdity; and yet we must answer in the affirmative if we are to accept as clear and intelligible the proposition that intentionality isn't essential to being a person. These considerations entitle us to conclude that any entity which is a person must have at least a modicum of some intentional attributes or other. In fact there may be certain particular intentional attributes which are essen- tial attributes of persons. Candidates for this group include expect- ing, desiderating, and imagining. So far as I know, there are no known cases of someone who never expected, desiderated, or imagined; indeed, so far as I know, no one has succeeded in

    7 See, e.g., P. F. Strawson, Individuals (London: 1959), Chapter 3, passim.


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