Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Intentionality

My Latin dictionary and the tattered cere cloths of my schoolboy Latin tell me that ‘intentio’ has the meaning of straining after something that we feel in our water is out there. Now you may say that if you get knocked on the head or slipped a ‘mickey finn’ there will be nothing out there but that does not get over the fact that for consciousness cerebral events are out there too. Descartes was not stupid, cerebral events are extended and material, consciousness is unextended and immaterial and therefore the identity that we claim between them is an identity that is fundamental and yet mysterious. We cannot understand how the pulsation of neuronal traffic is at one and the same time memories, dreams, and reflections. How are we to understand identity which is not numerical identity? It is perfectly possible to know this and talk about it at length without feeling the force of it. Metaphysics is just the attempt to get off the reef that we are stuck on. Many philosophers regard this feeling of 'stuckness’ as a Continental affliction, a Sartrean-type freak, forgetting that Wittgenstein expressed just that sensation of familiar mystery in Philosophical Investigations:

The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him, - And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.
(119)

4 comments:

ktismatics said...

I agree that cerebral events aren't just in the head but are out there. Visual and auditory representations are assembled in the brain, but they represent the outside world. Are you saying that intentions are internal representations of something out there in the world, something that isn't accessible to the usual sensory receptors but that can be known by a "feel in one's water"? I think intentions are shaped by represented expectations of what's out there, but these expectations have implicit probabilities attached to them. I'm very likely to find OJ in the fridge; I can easily picture myself one minute into the future drinking a cold glass of juice. So my intentions are strong when I walk in there and open the refrigerator door. Romney intended to become president; he could form a strong mental representation of himself as president. But that particular alternative future didn't make it across the threshold into the present.

ombhurbhuva said...

John:
What I’m talking about here is not a matter of representation or mediate realism or scientific realism but direct realism or an immediate apprehension of the object. This is our gut feeling, in our reins, or in our water. So how is that possible, how does that boulder come to be in some manner in our mind? This is the point where metaphysics parts company with psychology and materialism generally for the major question then is - how can there be identity which is not material or numerical identity. I’m not considering here the looser identity of driving the same car as you do etc. Here there is a departure to a transcendental postulate or how things must fundamentally be if our profoundest intuitions are true.

Intentionality is in this case expanded past the concept of intention as aim or what we are intent on to the very capacity to encounter the object as such and not merely as a representation. The object is clearly not consciousness as in the immaterialism of Berkeley but the question remains - How does the mental process engage with the reality of the object in a direct way? A classic answer as in the realism of Plato and Aristotle is that we engage mentally with the formal reality of the object. The advaitins have a similar concept of formal identity. In other words the identity problem is resolved by a postulate of the identity of the substratum rather than admitting as final the Cartesian thesis of incommensurability.

As is evident this leaves data gathering alone not that there’s anything wrong with that.

ktismatics said...

So you're talking about that other meaning of intentionality: the intentional object, the object of one's thought, what the thought is about. Whereas I'm talking about intentionality as what one intends to do. I've run into this confusion before, notably when trying to make sense of Harman's writing. It must be a philosophical term of art. Never mind then.

ombhurbhuva said...

John:
There is, I think, an overlap between the two meanings, namely the projecting forward, the one towards an object that is often present but not necessarily so, the other towards an unrealized state of affairs. The metaphysical elaboration that the classic philosophers propose would be regarded as Higher Voodoo by many analytic types.

Say you get to the fridge and looking in you find that the soda is gone. At that moment you have a non-apprehension of existence which is a very odd but valid means of knowledge.