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EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Difference Does Intentionality Make for our "Fashionable Philosophies"?

In the latest issue of Philosophia Christi (Winter 2010), Biola University's R. Scott Smith has a unique article that challenges some underlying assumptions about intentionality and knowledge of what is real.

In the opening paragraphs of the article, Smith writes:
Intentionality is widely understood to be the “ofness” or “aboutness” of mental states. Metaphysically, however, there a number of views about what it is. For example, the token identity physicalist Michael Tye understands it as causal covariation under optimal conditions, whereas for J. P. Moreland, it is an abstract universal. Indeed, a range of views have been suggested along a number of lines, such as: (a) it is a property, a relation, or some other thing; (b) it is reducible to the physical, or not; and (c) it is real, or not.
My suspicion is that intentionality is needed for us to have knowledge of reality (that is, propositional knowledge), for whatever intentionality turns out to be, it seems that beliefs (not to mention concepts), being mental states, have it. While philosophers debate the precise formulation of the necessary conditions for knowledge, they seem agreed that it does include beliefs, which thereby include intentionality. My concern in this essay will be to show that much rises or falls in many of our contemporary, popular philosophies, whether among Christians or others. Specifically, I will try to show that intentionality has an essence and it seems best understood to be an abstract universal. This will allow me to show that other metaphysical treatments (or uses) of intentionality by several currently popular philosophies, such as naturalism, physicalism, postmodern epistemology, and moderate nominalism, land us in constructivism, such that we cannot know reality; we end up constructing it in some way or other.
To approach this issue, I will use Daniel Dennett and his treatment of intentionality as a crucial test case. From that study, I will extend my findings to the other aforementioned views. I will try to show not only how intentionality is an abstract universal but also how we use it to know reality directly. Then I will apply my findings to raise a potential implication for externalism in epistemology.
R. Scott Smith's article can be read in its entirety by subscribing to Philosophia Christi or by purchasing the Winter 2010 issue.

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Blogger Bill said:

I found this recent article by R. Scott Smith very interesting. While I cannot claim to understand all that is written here, I have a few comments.

There is a common distinction made between the media and the message, wherein the media is an encoding of the message or the meaning. Words written on a page are an encoding of the message. Clearly, there is a matter of fact regarding the encoding. But the relationship between the encoding, whether it be Morse Code or English letters, has no necessary relationship with the meaning. If then we are to seek a matter of fact of a meaning, it cannot be found in the encoding in a particular media. At issue is whether this is true whether it be on a piece of paper or the brain. In what sense does it make sense to ask "where is the meaning?" Is there a matter of fact regarding meaning? It seems that as subjects our mental states come to us as already having meaning. There is no distinction (for the most part) between having a mental state and then asking what it is about. It comes with its aboutness already attached, even if what it is about is not fully grasped by us. This seems to bear some resemblance to perception. Can we see anything without seeing it as something? Can we perceive nothing? I think not. Still it seems that perception is not so clearly about something as other mental states.

It seems that these kinds of questions are close to the root of Dr. Smith's study. It is mysterious to us how meanings get attached to our mental states. Even in Dennett's intentional stance someone must be taking things as something, lest we suffer the possibility of an infinite regress. I will continue studying the article in hopes of better understanding Dr. Smith's contribution to the puzzle.

By Blogger Bill, at February 2, 2011 at 9:22 AM  

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