Reply to Morick on Intentionality

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  • Canadian Journal of Philosophy

    Reply to Morick on IntentionalityAuthor(s): W. G. LycanSource: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Jun., 1975), pp. 697-699Published by: Canadian Journal of PhilosophyStable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 18:49

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  • CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY Volume IV, Number 4, June 1975

    Reply to Morick on Intentionality

    W. G. LYCAN, Ohio State University

    A number of philosophers have defended the view that mental or

    psychological verbs share a certain distinctive logical feature, though there is

    disagreement as to exactly what feature it is. Harold Morick1 has recently accused several of these philosophers (including Brentano, Chisholm and me2 ) of having "ignored or misinterpreted" verbs of a certain kind, in their search for this characteristic trait of mental verbs (normally called "intentionality").

    The verbs he is talking about are those that represent some of a person's activities, which are physical activities but which that person must allegedly be conscious in order to perform. Since a "basic sentence" 3 containing such a verb

    typically entails the existence of its object's referent, Morick contends, the verb in question fails lo count as "intentional" either on Brentano's definition, on

    Chisholm's, or on mine (each of these three definitions requires that a basic sentence containing an intentional verb not entail the existence of its object's putative referent.). Thus, Brentano, Chisholm and I have failed to make good our claim that all mental or psychological verbs are intentional. Some examples

    1. H. Morick, 'On the Indispensability of Intentionality/1 Canadian Journal of Philosophy, \\ (1972-3), 127-133.

    2. Franz Brentano, Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt (Vienna, 1874); Roderick Chisholm, "Sentences about Believing/' Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol. LVI (1955-1956), and elsewhere; W. Lycan, "On 'Intentionality' and the Psychological/' American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 6 (1969),

    3. A basic sentence, on Morick's usage, is a simple declarative sentence "of the

    grammatical form subject-verb-object/' whose verb "is an indicative-mood, active-voice occurrence verb," and whose subject and object "are proper nouns or definite descriptive phrases" (p. 129).


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  • W. G. Lycan

    of the kind of verb Morick is talking about are: "intimidate/1 "cheat," "rebuke," "ride," "hang," and "deceive."

    What makes Morick think that these verbs are psychological in the first

    place? He appeals to Strawson's test, claiming that a basic sentence containing such a verb implies that its subject's referent is conscious (I take it that

    "implies" here means "logically or conceptually implies"). It is hard to say how this claim is to be assessed, since "conscious" is an even less tractable term than

    "implies". We might ask ourselves, "Could a non-conscious device intimidate, cheat, or hang someone?" (disqualifying possible sophisticated, conscious machines from consideration). But the suggestion that a non-conscious machine could do such things fails to grate on my linguistic sensibilities. On several occasions I personally have been intimidated by automobile engines; I have also been cheated by candy machines. I suppose it might be replied (a) that I have

    just become accustomed to what really are sneer-quoted uses of the verbs in

    question, or (b) that I have a tin ear. I do not know what sorts of considerations could resolve this issue. 4

    In any case, Morick goes on to use intentionality as the basis for an attack

    upon the eliminative materialist. 5 His argument runs essentially as follows:

    1. If X is a person, then X sometimes believes, or expects, or

    intends, or desires, or engages in some other intentional activity. Suppose 2. Eliminative materialism is true.

    Then 3. No one ever engages in intentional activities. (2) And 4. There are no persons. (1,3)

    5. If language takes place, it takes place between persons. So 6. Language does not take place. (4,5)

    4. I think we must concede that intimidation, cheating, and even hanging could in some farfetched circumstances be exclusively conscious, non-physical activities on someone's part: one might intimidate and cheat one's victim by telepathy, and then hang him by telekinesis. But of course this does not entail Morick's claim that one must be conscious in order to perform such activities; nor does it increase my inclination to admit that Morick's verbs are mental or psychological in the central sense in which "believe," "hope" and their ilk are.

    5. See pp. 131-133. Among the eliminative materialists Morick mentions are Feyerabend ("Materialism and the Mind-Body Problem/' reprinted in J. O'Connor (ed.) Modem Materialism (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969), Quine Word and Object (M.I.T. Press, 1960), pp. 264-266), and Rorty ("Mind-Body Identity, Privacy, and Categories," Review of Metaphysics, Vol. XIX (1965-1966)).


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  • Reply to Morick

    Since the premises 1, 2 and 5 thus jointly entail the obvious falsehood 6, and since 1 and 5 are true, the hypothesis 2 (that eliminative materialism is true) is refuted. -

    This argument hinges on a special use of the word "person". If "person" means simply "human beings of the familiar sort or something relevantly like one," then Morick's premise 1 plainly begs the question against the eliminative materialist, whose claim is precisely that persons (= human beings) do not have mental states of the kind listed. I take it, therefore, that Morick uses "person" to mean, inter alia, something that has mental states; and in this sense of "person" the eliminative materialist does of course deny that there are persons.

    But in this mentalistically charged sense of "person," the eliminative materialist also denies Morick's premise 5. Language does take place, he will say, between human beings, which are organisms or machines of a very sophisticated kind; and indeed we can in principle give a very detailed, precise account of the verbal behavior of these organisms (by recourse either to neurophysiology or to the theory of automata or both). But no reference to intentional mental states or activities will enter into this explanation.

    This last prediction seems plausible (even if eliminative materialism as a whole does not). So Morick owes us an impressive argument against it. He does not give one himself, but rather quotes Dewey and then cites what I take to be Wittgenstein's argument against "private" languages.

    Dewey's claim, to the effect that language presupposes the existence of a

    speaker, a hearer, and an organized group to which they belong, would not bother the eliminative materialist. Of course there are speakers and hearers (i.e., organisms that transmit and receive sequences of sounds or marks which can be described as having a syntax and a semantics), and (functionally) organized groups to which these organisms belong.

    As I understand the "private language" hypothesis that Wittgenstein and Strawson are at pains to attack, it can be read in either of two ways: (i) "There could be a language which can (logically) be understood only by its one speaker"; (ii) "There could be a language each of whose singular terms refers directly to the speaker's immediate private sensations." Sometimes (i) is thought to follow from (ii). Now I do not see why either the denial of (i) or the denial of (ii) should bother the eliminative materialist. In fact, the denial of (ii) is a trivial consequence of the eliminative materialist's hypothesis. Nor do I see how any of the premises of the "private language" argument is at odds with eliminative materialism. Wittgenstein certainly held some other views which are incompatible with eliminative materialism (e.g., that it is impossible that all the introspective reports ever uttered are false); but that is another matter.

    July 1974


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    Article Contentsp. 697p. 698p. 699

    Issue Table of ContentsCanadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Jun., 1975), pp. 579-754Volume InformationFront MatterThe Cartesian Method of Locke's "Essay concerning Human Understanding" [pp. 579-601]La mthode cartsienne et l'interprtation de P. A. Schouls [pp. 603-609]Comments on Professor Schouls' Paper [pp. 611-615]Comments on Professors Yolton and Duchesneau [pp. 617-621]Parmenides on Ascertainment of the Real [pp. 623-633]Is Aristotle's Account of Incontinence Inconsistent? [pp. 635-651]Russell's "Proof" [pp. 653-662]Dreaming an Impossible Dream [pp. 663-675]Interaction Problems for Utility Maximizers [pp. 677-688]Paradigmatic Immorality [pp. 689-695]Reply to Morick on Intentionality [pp. 697-699]Reply to Lycan [pp. 701-704]The Omnipotence Paradox [pp. 705-715]The Unmakable-Because-Unliftable Stone [pp. 717-721]Critical NoticeReview: untitled [pp. 723-729]Review: untitled [pp. 731-743]Review: untitled [pp. 745-754]


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