Alberto Voltolini

The Mark of the Mental

Intentionalism about qualitative states is the thesis that the allegedly qualitative properties of mental states are identical with, or necessarily supervene on, the intentional properties of such states – strong intentionalism – or at least factually supervene on such properties – weak intentionalism. Intentionalism thus supports Brentano’s conception of the mental, according to which intentionality is the mark of the mental, at least in its mild version: being an intentional state is a merely necessary condition for being a mental state. I will here claim that weak intentionalism is incorrect; since strong intentionalism entails weak intentionalism, it collapses as well. I will indeed show that there are qualitative states merely having mental latex, i.e., qualitative properties that are matched by no intentional properties (Block 1996). To my mind, Crane (2001) offers the best way to argue for intentionalism. For Crane claims, first, that the matching between qualitative and intentional properties of a mental state is independent of the state’s having a propositional intentional content; the state may merely have an objectual intentional content. To find a propositional content on which allegedly qualitative properties at least supervene indeed is often an artificial matter. Hence, allegedly qualitative states can be treated as merely objectual intentional states, i.e., as states that merely possess reference intentionality – being about something – rather than content intentionality, having a content that so-and-so is the case. Moreover, Crane claims that such a treatment is guaranteed by the fact that allegedly qualitative states have the two features that essentially qualify intentionality of reference, namely, the possible nonexistence of the intentional object of a state and the aspectual shape of such a state. Yet even this way of arguing for intentionalism does not work. For there are qualitative states that are not qualified by such features, hence that possess no intentionality of reference. So, their qualitative properties are matched by no intentional properties. As a result, weak intentionalism (a fortiori, strong intentionalism) fails. In this respect, consider moods first. Following Crane, in order for e.g. a state of depression to be about something – notably, the whole world – it must be i) possibly about an object that does not exist and ii) such that that very object is given in a certain way. Yet it is unclear how one can feel oneself depressed towards a nonexistent world and how the world can be given in one’s depression in a way that makes its bearer fail to recognize that it is the same object differently given in another intentional state. Crane’s rejoinder (2007) is that moods are complex mental states, so that they have be reduced to simpler states which indeed are intentional states. Yet consider pains (or any other proprioceptive sensation for that matter). For Crane, they are objectual intentional states insofar as they both may be directed upon objects – bodily parts – that do not exist and possess aspectual shape. Yet it can be shown that they are no objectual intentional states. For appearances notwithstanding, they do not possess the above features that admittedly qualify intentionality of reference.

To begin with, pains are undoubtedly localized. Yet localization does not amount to the fact that pains are directed upon bodily portions that might not exist, as Crane holds. Not only, for a pain to be ascribed a certain location is just for it to be ascribed a seeming property, i.e., to merely take it as being located in a certain part of the body. But also, pain may be taken as located somewhere even in absence of any physical entity whatsoever, whether existent or not, corresponding to that location. More specifically, to radicalize an example from Wittgenstein (1975), it is not only conceivable, but also both metaphysically and nomologically possible, that one feels her pain neither in her body nor in some other’s body or in some other physical object, but merely in the surrounding air, where no object at all is located. So, pains are not possibly directed upon objects that do not exist. Besides, to say à la Crane that pains have an aspectual shape does not account for migrant pains, i.e., pains to which we ascribe different locations in different times. In general, intentional states have an aspectual shape insofar as the object given in a certain way in a certain intentional state is nothing but the object which is given in another way in another intentional state. Now, informative identities in which one discovers that an object given in a certain way – say, the evening star – is nothing but another object given in another way – say, the morning star – are atemporal. Yet migrant pains reconstructed à la Crane would at most prompt us to acknowledge temporalized identities. For we would have to say e.g. not only that what I feel is at t the left big toe that I see, but also that what I feel is at t’ the left index finger that I see. Since temporalized identities do not support aspectual shape, pains have no such shape. If all this is the case, then weak intentionalism fails. For the above remarks show that the fact that a state of pain (or any other proprioceptive sensation) has a qualitative character is not matched by its having an objectual intentional content. Hence, also strong intentionalism fails. So, intentionality is not the mark of the mental. As a corollary, if one wants to look for the mark of mental, one has to turn one’s eyes away from intentionality. For Husserl (1900), being conscious, rather than being intentional, is that mark: both qualitative states and intentional states are mental insofar as they are experienced. According to this move, dispositional states endowed with content, as most beliefs are ordinarily considered to be, are not mental states; they are merely informational states. Yet we are ready to consider subpersonal states, states that cannot be experienced, as merely informational states. Since, as Crane himself holds, dispositional states differ from occurrent intentional states for the latter only are experienced, also dispositional states may well be merely informational states.