On “The thesis of intentionality”

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  • ON "THE THESIS OF INTENTIONALITY"*

    ALBERT FLORES

    Some philosophers have maintained that there is an important difference between physical phenomena and psychological phenomena. Psychological phenomena are characterized by what Franz Brentano called "intentional inexistence", that is, they are activities which can be said to have objects even though the objects which they can be said to have may not actually exist. For example. I can wish for Montezuma's gold even though it may not exist, but I cannot count it if it does not exist. The former ac- tivity contains an object in itself, viz., an intentional object, while the latter does not, hence Brentano believed we could distinguish between psychological and physical activities by means of the notion of intentionality (or intentional inexistence). His thesis is:

    This intentional inexistence is exclusively peculiar to psychi- cal phenomena. No physical phenomenon shows anything similar. And so we can def'me psychical phenomena by saying that they are phenomena which intentionally contain an object in thernselvesJ

    Intentionality would, on his view, be a mark of the psychological. In "Sentences About Believing", 2 R.M. Chisholm formulates a

    linguistic thesis of intentionality resembling that of Brentano's. Instead of saying that activities like believing have an intentional object, Chisholm says that sentences about believing are inten- tional sentences, or are used intentionally. By referringto the language we use, Chisholm believes he can more precisely charac- terize Brentano's thesis.

    Let us say (1)that we do not need to use intentional lan- guage when we describe non-psychological, or "physical" phenomena; we can express all that we know, or believe, about such phenomena in language which is not intentional. And let us say (2)that, when we wish to describe certain psychological phenomena - in particular, when we wish to describe thinking, believing, perceiving, seeing, knowing,

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  • ALBERT FLORES

    wanting, hoping and the like - either (a)we must use lan- guage which is intentional or (b)we must use a vocabulary which we do not need to use when we describe non-psycho- logical, or "physical," phenomena. 3

    The issue as to the correctness of this version of the thesis of intentionality will depend, in part, on how the intentional use of language is characterized. Toward this end, Chisholm formulates three criteria by which we can identify intentional sentences, or more generally the intentional use of language.

    These criteria have not, however, been found to be generally acceptable; in particular, there are sentences which are prima facie about psychological phenomena, hence are psychological sentences, but they do not satisfy Chisholm's criteria of intentionality. In that case, the criteria would not apparently provide a necessary condition of intentionality. There is, however, a plausible way of reinterpreting these sentences so that they do satisfy his criteria. But there is another more serious criticism that does not seem to have any easy solution. There are some sentences which satisfy these criteria which cannot reasonably be considered to be about any psychological phenomena, hence they are non-psychological sentences. In other words, these sentences are counterexamples to the claim that Chisholm's criteria provide a sufficient condition of intentionality, consistent with the thesis of intentionality. In view of these counterexamples, Chisholm's critics conclude that either he must revise his criteria or abandon them and defend a version of the thesis of intentionality weaker than that given above. 4

    Chisholm's critics have, however, completely ignored the fact that Chisholm intended his criteria to be satisfied by non-psycho- logical sentences, as we shall momentarily see. Nonetheless, he believes that these sentences are not contrary to his version of the thesis of intentionality because he claims that all intentional non- psychological sentences are transformable into non-intentional sentences. This claim, in part, constitutes what I call "The Trans- formation Thesis". Thus I claim because Chisholm's critics have ignored this latter thesis, the mere production of putative counter- examples is not sufficient to prove the inadequacy of Chisholm's criteria of intentionality, as it has been generally assumed. Sup- porting this claim is the aim of the first part of this paper. In the second part, I argue for what seems to be the most plausible inter- pretation of the transformation thesis, and after examining speci- men transformations, I conclude that in the end Chisholm's

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    defense of the transformation thesis will not allow him to avoid the consequences which these putative counterexamples present for his criteria and his version of the thesis of intentionality.

    I

    Chisholm formulates three criteria by means of which we can identify those simple declarative sentences which are intentional or are used intentionally, s The pwst criterion is:

    A simple declarative sentence is intentional if it uses a sub- stantival "expression - a name or a description - in such a way that neither the sentence nor its contradictory implies either that there is or that there isn't anything to which the substantival expression truly applies.

    The sentence:

    (1) Quine looked for the proper characterization of 'analyticity'.

    is intentional by this criterion. Neither (I), nor the contradictory of (1) implies the existential sentence: 6

    (2) There is a proper characterization of 'analyticity'.

    or the denial of it. Although Chisholm does not specify what sense of 'implies' he intends in this criterion, it is reasonable to suppose that he is using Lewis' notion of "strict implication". 7

    The second criterion of intentionality is :

    A simple declarative sentence, the principal verb of which takes as its object a phrase containing a subordinate verb, is intentional if neither the sentence nor its contradictory implies either that the phrase following the principle verb is true or that it is false.

    For example:

    (3) Othello believes that Desdemona loves Cassio.

    is intentional by this criterion. The third criterion is the criterion of indirect reference:

    A simple declarative sentence is intentional if it contains a name or description which has an indirect reference in that sentence.

    Chisholm def'mes 'indirect reference' in the following way: "a name (or description) of a certain thing has an indirect reference

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    in a sentence if its replacement by a different name (or descrip- tion) of that thing results in a sentence whose truth-value may differ from that of the original". 8 For example:

    (4) Desdemona is the woman framed by Iago.

    is a true identity statement. If we replace 'Desdemona' in (3) by the description 'the woman framed by Iago', the resulting sentence is false, whereas before the replacement (3) was true. Hence (3) is intentional by the third criterion. As it turns out, (3) is also inten- tional by the second criterion, hence some sentences may satisfy more than one criterion.

    If a simple declarative sentence satisfies any one of the criteria then it is an intentional sentence; hence each criterion is a suffi- cient condition for intentionaiity. No one of these criteria is by itself a necessary condition of intentionality, since each criterion can be satisfied by sentences not satisfying another. In order to specify a necessary condition of intentionality the best we can do is consider the disjunction of the criteria as a necessary condi- tion. 9 Hence, a necessary and sufficient condition of a sentence being intentional is its satisfaction of one of Chisholm's three criteria, 1~ and a necessary and sufficient condition of a sentence not being intentional is its failure to satisfy each of Chisholm's three criteria.

    Chisholm's criteria have been criticized on the ground that they do not provide an adequate characterization of intentionality, n Critics maintain that our preanalytic conception of intentionality, as a property unique to sentences about psychological phenomena, amounts to the conjunction of the following two theses:

    (A) All intentional sentences are psychological sentences. (B) All psychological sentences are intentional sentences.

    It is by reference to (A) and (B) that the adequacy of proposed criteria of intentionality are to be judged. It is claimed that Chisholm's criteria are, consequently, inadequate because they are subject to numerous counterexamples based on (A) and (B). In other words, if the conjunction of (A) and (B) is regarded as stating a version of the thesis of intentionality, then Chisholm's criteria would be inconsistent with it.

    It has, for example, been argued that Chisholm's criteria do not satisfy (B). There are psychological sentences such as

    (5) Iohn is angry.

    which do not turn out to be intentional by Chisholm's criteria, n

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    Critics conclude from this that Chisholm's criteria do not state a necessary condition of intentionality. D.H. Sanford 13 suggests that we can accommodate these counterexamples by weakening the thesis of intentionality and say that intentionality may be peculiar to psychological sentences even though not all psychological sen- tences are intentional. He implies that this adjustment does not substantially affect the claim that intentionality is peculiar to the psychological, since this claim is independent of the claim that all psychological sentences are intentional. For Chisholm, however, this move would not be a happy one, for his rejection of the thesis of physicalism, for example, depends upon a version of the thesis of intentionality wherein something like (B) is an essential part. Although Sanford's suggestion is unacceptable, there is another, less radical way of handling sentences like (5). I suggest that sentences like (5) are ellipses of longer sentences that are intentional by Chisholm's criteria; for example:

    (6) John is angry at (about) x.

    is intentional on Chisholm's criteria. If all similar putative counter- examples can be handled in the same way, then Chisholm's criteria are, apparently, adequate as a necessary condition of inten- tionality.

    Chisholm's criteria are still open to the criticism that there are other counterexamples which prove his criteria are not sufficient for intentionality. In particular, this criticism depends upon pro- viding instances of non-psychological sentences which satisfy Chisholm's criteria for intentionality. For example, each of the following sentences has been presented as a counterexarnple to one of Chisholm's three criteria:

    (7) The fire needs some coal. (8) The frost may bring it about that the cliff will fall. (9) It is necessary that Alaska is Alaska. ~4 (8) The frost may bring it about that the cliff will fall. (9) It is necessary that Alaska is Alaska.l 4

    None of these sentences is a sentence about the psychological, but each satisfies one of Chisholm's three criteria for intentional sen- tences. Thus, since each of the three criteria fail to satisfy (A), it is concluded that they are not sufficient conditions for inten- tionality. There is another related objection, namely, that if there are examples of non-psychological intentional sentences, then intentionality would not, contrary to Chisholm, be a mark peculiar to sentences about the psychological.

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  • ALBERT FLORES

    Chisholm has a defense against both of these criticisms, but it is a defense which all of his critics have ignored. He maintains that "it is true that we do sometimes use intentional sentences in non- psychological contexts, ''~s and if so, then any adequate criteria for intentionality should reflect this usage. Chisholm has himself presented similar examples of non-psychological sentences which satisfy his criteria, for example:

    (10) The patient will be immune from the effects of any new epidemics.

    (11) It is probable that there is life on Venus. 16

    But according to Chisholm examples of intentional non-psycho- logical sentences are not counterexamples to his criteria of inten- tionality, since those criteria are intended to capture such usage. Thus, instead of being challenged by sentences like these, he be- lieves they illustrate the adequacy of his criteria.

    Although this defense may allow Chisholm to avoid the criti- cism that there are counterexamples to his criteria, his critics might further argue that such a response has undesirable conse- quences. For even if these sentences do not show the criteria to be defective, they are surely counterexamples to (A). Since there are counterexamples to (A), then we cannot claim any particular signi- ficance for the thesis that intentional language is peculiar to our talk about psychological phenomena. The claim that all intentional sentences are psychological sentences is an essential part of the thesis of intentionality. Consequently intentional non-psychological sentences are counter to the thesis of intentionality.

    In response to this criticism, Chisholm states that

    These sentences are not examples counter to our thesis. Any- one who understands the language can readily transform them into conditionals which are not intentional.. . Instead of using intentional sentences, we could have said, ' If there should be any new epidemics, the patient would not be affected by them' . . . I believe that any other ostensibly non-psychological sentence which is intentional can be trans- formed, in an equally obvious way, into a sentence con- forming to our version of Brentano's thesis. That is to say, it will become a sentence of one of two possible types: either (a) it will no longer be intentional or (b) it will be explicitly psychological. Sentences about probability may be inten- tional, but, depending upon one's conception of probability,

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    they may be transformed either into the first or into the second type. ~7

    Accordingly, sentence (11) would either be transformed into a non-intentional non-psychological sentence about frequencies of life on planets like Venus, or it would be transformed into an explicitly psychological sentence, such as

    (12) It is reasonable for us to believe that there is life on Venus.

    Following Chisholm's lead, Sanford ts suggests the following as non-intentional non-psychological transformations for (8) and (9), respectively:

    (13) It is possible that the frost will bring it about that the cliff will fall.

    (14) It is necessary that Alaska is self-identical.

    Let us call the thesis that no intentional psychological sentences are transformable into non-intentional sentences and that all inten- tional non-psychological sentences are transformable into non- intentional sentences ~9 the transformation thesis. We can see that if this thesis is correct, then sentences like (7)-(9) are not sen- tences counter to Chisholm's statement of the thesis of intention- ality, as p...

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