Phenomenal Intentionality and its alleged Hard Problem
Intentionality seemed to great philosophers of the past (at least prima facie) mysterious (e.g. Russell), to pose a great riddle (e.g. Kant), and to be a unique mental phenomenon, indeed to be the distinguishing mark of the mental (e.g. Brentano, Chisholm). Some of them took this uniqueness one step further, namely to establishing (some) mental-physical irreducibility (e.g. Chisholm, and on some contentious interpretation Brentano). The relevance of intentionality to the mind-body problem thus appears obvious, although what this relevance entails is an open question (Quine famously presented the choice between two options).Contemporary discussions of the mind-body problem revolved around phenomenal consciousness. The most important direct arguments against physicalism concern this phenomenon, which is also taken to give rise to the mind-body „explanatory gap“ and the „hard problem“, and to stubbornly resist naturalization. Intentionality, on the other hand, is nowadays hardly taken to pose a significant obstacle for the physicalist worldview, and it seems not to engender such difficulties. A significant reason that underlies this attitude toward intentionality has to do with the (relatively wide) conviction that a naturalistic reduction of intentionality is viable. If true, the naturalistic-reductionistic approach provides an obvious solution to the problem or the mystery of intentionality, of how the mind (or perhaps other entities as well) hooks up to the world. From this perspective, represnetationalist accounts of phenomenal consciousness whether first-order or higher-order ones look appealing: reducing phenomenality to intentionality entails that phenomenality is also free of those problems, appearance to the contrary notwithstanding. Note that for being able to carry this burden, representationalist accounts must be reductive representationalist accounts accounts according to which the intentional determines the phenomenal but is not determined by it, and the intentional need not be phenomenal, or otherwise conscious. Interestingly, some representationalists support Brentano´s thesis of intentionality as the distinguishing mark of the mental, but they typically deny as they should that the mental having a distinguishing mark in itself leads to dualism.There are exceptions to the current consensus that intentionality poses no obstacle for physicalism. On the one (and relatively marginal) hand, there are direct anti-physicalist arguments that focus on intentionality (e.g. Plantinga´s). On the other hand, some philosophers maintain that intentionality does give rise to problems such as the hard problem and the explanatory gap. Thus, Horgan and Tienson, who are prominent proponents of the view of „phenomenal intentionality“, according to which there is a kind of intentionality that is exhaustively determined by phenomenal character, argue that, far from solving or dissolving those problems, the relation this view depicts between phenomenality and intentionality doubles them: „Consciousness intentional states are intrinsically, by their very nature, directed toward whatever they are directed toward. Thus, the hard problem includes this: why should a mental state that is grounded in this physical or physical/functional state be by its intrinsic phenomenal nature directed in this precise manner?“
Kriegel, Loar, Pitt, Siewert and others also advocate the existence of phenomenal intentionality. What is crucial for the present move is that phenomenal intentionality be intrinsic intentionality. Intrinsic intentionality in the sense under consideration is intentionality that an entity has in itself independently (in the conceptual sense) of its relations to other entities and of any interpretation. If the view of phenomenal intentionality did not concern intrinsic intentionality, it would not be more interesting and exciting than the view that sentences or their utterances have intentionality; certainly, it wouldn´t give rise to a physical-intentional explanatory gap, hard problem, etc.There is an important truth to the idea of phenomenal intentionality. Experiences (of at least most kinds) have contents that are intimately related to their experiential properties. It is hard to deny that „red“ phenomenal properties standardly represent red things, and it is anything but accidental that they do. However, I will argue that intentionality, being transcendence of entities beyond themselves, must depend on interpretation, and phenomenal intentionality does not form an exception. I will argue that introspection, which is typically taken to base phenomenal intentionality, is not to be trusted as far as intentionality is concerned, and I will expose the roots of the mistaken idea that the phenomenal is intrinsically intentional. This idea is rooted in a kind of perspective illusion: from the first-person perspective, the intentionality of the phenomenal seems to be simply „there“, independently of anything. But interpretation is essentially involved: self (semantic) interpretation is doomed to escape our gaze because it is made from the inside (as if there is no gap between the bearer of intentionality and intentionality, a gap that is mediated by interpretation). The paradigm of interpretation as one interpreting another misleads us to overlook self-interpretation and replace it by alleged intrinsic intentionality.So the relation of determination between phenomenal properties and their represented properties isn´t much deeper than the relation between linguistic entities and their represented properties. At the same time, denying that phenomenal experiences and other mental states have intrinsic intentionality is compatible with the view that such mental states have original intentionality: our practices of semantic interpretation can give priority to the intentionality of the mental over the intentionality of language, indeed of anything non-mental. But this priority has no metaphysical implication, and phenomenal intentionality is similar to linguistic intentionality in depending on interpretation and in not being intrinsic. Due to the un-tenability of the notion of intrinsic intentionality, there cannot be sound intentionality-based anti-physicalist arguments, and intentionality (whatever other puzzles it may involve) can involve no explanatory gap or hard problem of the kinds attributed to the phenomenal. Phenomenal intentionality provides no indication to the contrary. The paper will argue for these conclusions in detail.