Philosophy of Mind Issues: Intentionality
One should start by saying that intentionality is a concept taken from scholastic philosophy and introduced in the modern philosophy by Franz Brentano. Intentionality is oftentimes described by many as only aboutness or the inherent relationship between certain mental acts and the external environment. Brentano on the other hand defined Intentionality as the main characteristics of “psychical phenomena” by which it indeed can be distinguished from the “physical phenomena”. Every event or phenomenon regardless of be it mental of psychical is directed at an object. Block (1986) noted that “Every personal belief, want, desire or whim in turn has an object that they believe is about: i.e. the believed and the wanted” (p.620). Brentano on the other hand used a special expression “intentional inexistence” to indicate the status quo of various objects and events as pictured in the human mind. Therefore, the unique property of being intentional, i.e. having intentional object is what allows people to distinguish psychical from physical phenomena, since physical phenomena lacks intentionality altogether. The following essay will speak about intentionality with respect to art, maps, words or traffic signs and explore it in a greater detail.
Intentionality is always about something. Thus the belief that Bill Clinton is American is about Bill Clinton. The intentional object of the state is the very object about which the state is intentional. The paradox with Intentionality is that there is not relation of aboutness as applied to the mental state and an underlying object, just in case that the intentional state is about a particular object.
Another thing worth noting in the essay is the two theses as proposed by Brentano that provide the most discussions of intentional state of mind. Please refer to these theses as shown below:
a. No physical phenomenon has intentionality since intentionality cannot be reduced to physical level.
b. Intentionality is the mark of the mental, meaning that all mental states have intentionality and only mental states have intentionality.
Having understood these thesis it becomes interesting to find out that many philosophers around the world wonder that intentionality should at some point of time get reduced if it represents genuine phenomenon. Fodor (1987, p.97) noted that intentionality does not go as deep as to include aboutness. Real properties of things are about semantics and intentional state, yet there are things that can be neither semantic nor intentional.
Without a though behind a word or a statement, one can say that language is meaningless. If intelligence or human presence and contribution are all absent, one can say that words are nothing but blank and meaningless characters. The language user might hear and understand certain sounds yet others who do not use or know that language as well as the physists who assess only the physical qualities of a sound would find speech meaningless, too. Thus, intentionality of any language or sound is explained only by intentionality of though or human consciousness.
All sentences are about their subjects, and topics are about their meaning. When considering sentences as marks on paper one can say that they are not intentional. A sentence and a word get intentional only when they start to mean something to someone. In idiomatic language or jargon, this is the claim that provides intentionality because of semantics involved in it.
In order to assess how much intentionality can be reduced, it is interesting to comment on the original and derivative intentionality as depicted in Haugeland’s (1998) and Searle’s (1992) works. Derivative intentionality states that intentionality represents certain things that can be explained in terms of intentionality with respect to something else, or else one speaks about original intentionality. The intentionality of languages is derivative, since language inherits intentionality from the mental states that precede language as well as various conventions and norms adopted by linguists and regular language users. This element of reduction of intentionality appears to be rather complex since the problems of reducing intentionality results in another problem that is reduced to the problem of reducing the intentionality of the mental state.
Speaking about maps, I have to admit that maps are not about intentionality. A map is not a territory. You cannot own a territory by owning a map. Furthermore, one is not able to own anything about the territory that the map signifies, since the map does not signify territory. From the physical point of view a map is but a paper with some paint printed on it in the manner and with the right pattern that we consider as important and meaningful. It is a common fact that animals and children under certain age do not read and understand drawings since they find nothing interesting or meaningful about a set of colors being located on one particular piece of fabric or paper when one is able to find the same colors in nature on trees, leaves, rivers and deserts.
Art is also not about intentionality since it doesn’t entail anything unless it is viewed by humans as correct. Sometimes it is possible to find some objects as depicted in the sky (clouds), in the desert (mirage) or during hallucinations (human mind). Apparently, these objects that one sees are not necessarily seen in the same manner by every person on earth. Formal art is nothing else but a purposeful application of paint on fabric/paper/surface to create something that would be perceived as an image by others. Abstract art illustrates the nature of art by providing ambiguous pictures that are interpreted different by different groups of people. While some people can see one thing in the complex play of colors others see another. Another thing that one needs to understand is that art does not have intentionality since intentionality is given to the art by other things. It has been a commonly accepted rule that a certain shape colored in black and white stripes symbolizes a zebra, while a roundly shaped paint blot symbolizes a wheel, a tit, a button or perhaps even a UFO, depending on how people view it.
The words also do not contain intentionality since they do not mean anything or are about anything unless some people agreed on them. In other words, words are but sounds that mean something only when intentionality is given to them by others. Thus, while SWAK means nothing to some it might mean “sealed with a kiss”, “TTYL” or “ASAP” also mean something when people agree to view them as “talk to you later” or “as soon as possible”. Other words that are not abbreviations mean something only when people agree that these words should mean something. Words do not have intentionality.
By the same token traffic signs do not have intentionality since they are given intentionality by some other things that people agree upon. Still they are elements of art and do not contain intentionality or are words (e.g. signs like “Stop”, “one way”) that also have not intentionality. The signs mean something when the society or the government authority tells them to tell something. In other words the “Stop” sign tells drivers that he/she should stop and then go, despite the fact that the sign says “Stop”. If society agreed it could have called the sign “Stop and Go” and drivers would obey it with the same accuracy. Just like maps, art or words, traffic signs are not about intentionality.
In conclusion, one should say that intentionality is about aboutness yet hardly ever clarifies it since the word “about” is already complex. A belief can be about absolutely anything regardless of whether or not it exists. The non-existence of the object of an intentional item looks like a complex puzzle to many yet it is resistant to both the solution and dismissal. For instance one cannot want without wanting something (be it mental or physical), and whatever one wants does not necessarily have to exist for him/her or at all. One might want to have dinosaur pet, yet apparently such thing does not exist. People believe in God and children believe in Santa. Apparently these people are said to believe in nothing by some groups of people, yet their thinking involves different states of mind since they all have different objects and both are distinguished form the beliefs of skeptics or atheists who view the concept of non-existence (nothing) differently. It might appear to be a simple solution to the existing problem: no one proved 100% that god or Santa exist thus they do not exist. Still they both can exist in the mind of a believer and a child, thus this idea represents the object of their true belief about a superior deity.
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