Sunday, February 26, 2012


The following is a paper written for a Philosophy of Perception class. It answers the following questions:
What is the problem of intentionality and how does Crane propose to solve it?
Do you think his solution is plausible?

Justin Southworth
Philosophy 349

When concerning intentionality, there is an intrinsic problem which is encountered. But to simply address this problem and solutions, primarily the solution proposed by Crane, to this problem is to get ahead of ourselves. If we were to simply address this problem we would be lost on what it is that is the problem. The problem lies with in the fundamental aspects of intentionality, therefore, we must define what these fundamental aspects are. 
Traditionally defined, intentionality is the mind's direction upon an object. That is to say that all mental phenomena have an intentional object. Intentional states, which are intentional, possess two qualities: (1) the have directedness towards  an object and (2) have  aspectual shape. Let us look at the second of these qualities first, for the sake of order: Intentional states possess aspectual shape.
What is meant by 'intentional states possess aspectual shape'? It means quite simply that in an intentional state, the object of this intentional state is being directed towards in a certain manner. Much like when one looks at dogs running in a park, this someone sees these dogs from a certain perspective. He or she is looking at these dogs from a particular place, at a particular angle, such that there are things concerning the sight before him or her that he or she cannot know. Take for example, Sherlock Holmes investigating a murder and the murderer was the butler. Before Sherlock Holmes has any evidence to suggest that the butler is the murderer,  he will not know that the butler is the murderer and cannot make such a claim. His current frame of reference only allows for him to see the butler as the head servant of the house hold and not as the murderer. Once the evidence that Holmes has collected is great enough to suggest that the butler is the murderer, he can now see the butler as more than just he head servant, but as the murderer. The aspectual shape is not what is presented but the way in which the object – we will analyze what is meant by object later – is presented. What is presented by the aspectual shape is called the intentional content. An individual is not presented with an aspect but, rather, under a particular aspect. The aspect is not what is presented, then, but is the  mode in which something is presented. Since nothing can be presented as a whole, there cannot be any pure presentation of an object, as with the example above, the butler is presented as the head servant to Holmes until he has evidence to support that the butler is the murderer, then and only then, the butler is presented as the murderer. It is true that Holmes can see the butler as the murderer and the head servant, but the butler could have a son, but Holmes is unaware of the butler's fatherhood. The subject, in this case, Holmes, determines which aspectual shape will be given for any particular object. That is not to say that the aspectual shape is subjective because the aspectual shape exists free of the subject. For example, when Holmes views the butler as being the head servant, he views him as the head servant, but when not viewing the butler as the head servant, say as the murderer, he is still the head servant, regardless of whether he is being viewed as such. This goes to say that the mode of presentation for an object only presents particular aspects through which the object is viewed. This being said, let us now move to the first quality of intentional states: Intentional states are directed at an object.
Directedness is the idea that a mental phenomena has an object – which will henceforth be referred to as an intentional object. This definition, then, brings up the question of what an intentional object is. John Searl defined an intentional object as being an ordinary object, which goes to say that an intentional object is simply what the particular intentional state is about – his defense is essentially that you can think about a person, such as Albert Einstein, and you are thinking directly about the person, Albert Einstein, and not some strange shadowy intermediary – but this definition brings up two problems. The first of these problems arises when trying to say that an intentional object is simply what an intentional state is about if it is an ordinary object. It is true that an intentional object could be an object in the traditional sense  –  such as a desk or a cat –  but it can be shown that an intentional object can be about entities which are things not in this traditional sense – such as Albert Einstein's Theories of General and Special Relativity, which is not an object at all, but is the relations between space, time, and speed. Since these theories can be intentional objects, then intentional objects cannot be simply ordinary objects. It could be taken to mean that by ordinary objects he meant an existing entity then we can account for these other entities. But this then brings up the problem that intentional objects can be things which do not exist, such as a unicorn. By saying that intentional objects are objects in the sense of existing entities, but the intentional state is directed upon an object that is not an existing entity, such as a unicorn, then by definition, the intentional object does not exist. By using this definition, we find ourselves digging deeper, but going no where. Intentional object then can be said to be the object of an intentional states and is an ordinary object, but some of these intentional objects do not exist. This, in itself, seems contradictory and is fighting with itself. It seems to say that some of these ordinary objects, of which intentional objects are, simply do not exist. The solution to this conundrum that is given by Crane is that some intentional objects do not exist by denying that they are ordinary objects. The word object can take on many meanings besides the substantial conception – of which both physical and abstract objects belong –  which possesses a certain nature. The conception that Crane proposes we use is the schematic conception, a conception of objects which do not possess any nature. These kinds of objects are related to the grammatical sense of an object. This is like saying the objects are the direct object of a transitive verb. For example, in the sentence 'Jack fell down the hill', the object of the verb 'fell' is 'hill.' The word hill in this sentence, of course, is representative of a substantial object, but is itself, in fact, not. It is nothing more than the answer to 'What did Jack fall down?' The main point that Crane was making by this solution is to say that just because an object is not a shadowy intermediary is not to say that the object is an ordinary object of some kind, as it could be this other, schematic, type of object. The object of though is just as the grammatical sense of the word: an indeterminate – using the object of the example above, 'hill', we can see that this hill is nondescript. It has no particular definitive characteristics, such as height or slope, which it would have if the hill were an ordinary object. So he concludes that these objects would belong to no class of object as they possess no nature. To be an intentional object means to be nothing more than what the mind is directed upon in any given state of intention. It should also be made a point that at any given time, there is no one answer for the question of what is the object of an intentional state.
Intentionality is often defined as being an aboutness of something. That is to say, 'What is a certain thought about?' The answer is that thought's intentional object. It then seems apparent that intentionality is a relation between an intentional object and the subject of the intentional state. That is to say, “'a' is in relation to 'b.'” If not all intentional objects exist, then there cannot be a relation to those which do not exist, as there cannot be a relation to which nothing is related – what is being related to is often called the relata. This means, that with out a relata, the relation cannot exist at all. Thus we have stumbled upon what Tim Crane calls the problem of intentionality. It can be summed up as follows:
(A) Every thought is a relation which relates the thinking subject to the object with is  thought about.
(B) To say there is a relation is to say that the relata exist
(C) Some intentional objects do not exist.
It should become apparent that there is conflict among these ideas, such that they contradict each other.  Crane suggests that the solution for this is to deny (A), and to keep (B) and (C). His defense for (C) is that it is undeniable that intentional objects do not exist, yet thoughts about them do. One can think about unicorns, the philosophers stone, and impossible shapes, such as his example of a round square, yet these objects do not exist. So denying this proposition does little for solving the problem. It has also been debated that (B) can be rejected, by saying that there can be essentially a realm of non-existent objects, but Crane rejects the idea. Crane sees only reason to dismiss (A) which seemingly, by holding (C) true, puts him in the same boat as those who rejected (B), but this not the case. By saying that there are intentional objects that do not exist does not say that there are some non-existent, but real, intentional objects. It says that there are thoughts which are about the non-existent, such as Cerberus or unicorns, but there is no realm of the non-existent that would be needed for it to be held true that (B) were false. Instead, by accepting that (A) is false and using the definition of intentional objects proposed by Crane, we find that there need not be any actual real object to correspond to the intentional objects. In the case of Cerberus or unicorns, we find that thoughts of these these two, and others, have a correspondence with simply nothing, thus these thoughts are about Cerberus and unicorns because these are the answer to the question 'About what is being thought?' and not because unicorns or Cerberus exist. This is not to say that these thoughts are the same, because they are not. It is true that they are ultimately about nothing, but they differ because Cerberus and unicorns are not the same nothing to which is being referred. This can be put in another way. To say one has a thought about Cerberus, despite there being no correspondence with a real object, the intentional object is Cerberus, because the intentional object is the answer to the question: 'About what am I thinking?' Since the thought is about Cerberus, the answer is Cerberus, although its correspondence is nothing, because Cerberus is a more specific answer and is a much better answer than nothing. If the intentional object has a correspondence to something real, then the intentional object can be said to be real, but only because it possesses this correspondence and not because the intentional object is real in itself. The proposition that all thoughts are relations between a thinking subject and an object, then must be mistaken, because not all thoughts are relations between a thinking subject and an object. If not all intentional objects exist then thoughts about them must not be relations, since the relata of such a relation would not exist and according to the second proposition, a relation requires the existence of the relata. 
This brings up a problem with the idea of intentionality as intentionality is an intentional state's directedness to an object from a certain aspectual shape. It appears that intentionality is a relation, but if not all intentional states are relations to an intentional object, then what can be said of this relational nature possessed by the intentional states? Crane elegantly shows how the relational nature of intentionality is still present as follows: We know that an intentional state possesses both directedness and aspectual shape, such that directedness is defined by the intentional object and the aspectual shape by the intentional content. The intentional state cannot exist with out one of these, and these together make the mode of intentionality, or intentional mode. Just as the direction of the intentional state has aspectual shape, the intentional object has intentional content. That is to say that an intentional object can not exist, as it may have no reference to any existing entity, but there is something to the intentional state, because the content is there – or, to put it another way, one can think and have that though directed at nothing, but cannot think and not think anything. Thus we do not need to present the intentional object if we present the content of the object. We can then say that intentionality is a relation between an intentional mode and the intentional content and the relational nature of intentionality is preserved.
His solution to the problem of intentionality is sound and I believe it is plausible. I can find no holes in his reasoning and see no reason why his solution should be refuted. By choosing to refute the idea that all intentional states are relations between a thinking, or perceiving, subject and an object, in order to remove contradictions which seemed to arise in the idea of intentionality, Crane was able to show how intentional states can still retain their relational nature by showing that, although there may be intentional objects which do not exist, there is always intentional content, and thus the relational nature is not to the intentional objects but the intentional content. 

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