Elisabetta Sacchi

Is so called Spurious Intentionalism really Spurious?

There are two main insights that inform the current reflection in the philosophy of mind: (i) content externalism (the content of mental states is constitutively dependent on worldly, environmental facts) and (ii) phenomenological internalism (phenomenology depends only on the intrinsic features of a subject). The question I shall address is whether it is possible to preserve both insights within a strong intentionalist (SI) account according to which phenomenal properties are intentional ones. My presentation will be articulated in three parts: (I Part) Presentation of a triad which seems to rule out the possibility of preserving both content externalism and phenomenological internalism within an intentionalist framework; (II Part) Criticism of the phenomenological externalist’s move; (III Part) Presentation of a possible way of preserving both insights. The triad I shall start with is the following: 1. Phenomenal properties are intentional ones (strong intentionalist thesis) 2. Intentional properties are wide (content externalism) 3. Phenomenal properties are narrow (phenomenological internalism) In order to stick to 1., (strong) intentionalists divide themselves into those who reject 2. (e.g. Thau, 2002) and those who reject 3 (Dretske, 1995; Harman, 1990; Lycan, 1996; Tye, 1995, 2000). The former defend “narrow content intentionalism” (i.e. the idea that phenomenal properties are narrow representational properties). The latter defend “phenomenal externalism” (i.e. the idea that phenomenal properties are wide representation properties). After having set the stage for the discussion (first part) I shall criticize the phenomenal externalist’s move (second part) by claiming that that move makes violence to our very conception of the phenomenal, in so far as, as Chalmers (2004) has claimed, it commits itself to the doubtful claim that “what it is like to be a subject could depend constitutively on factors that may be far away from the subject and in the distant past”.

In the third part I shall consider whether there is a variety of strong intentionalism which enables to maintain both content externalism and phenomenological internalism. As Crane has claimed, given that mental states can differ either (i) in their intentional content; or (ii) in their intentional mode; or (iii) in both content and mode, there are three possible varieties of SI according to which the conscious character of a mental state is claimed to be based on features of: (i) its intentional content (“pure intentionalism”); (ii) its intentional mode (“spurious intentionalism”); (iii) both its intentional content and its intentional mode (“impure intentionalism”). Since both pure and impure intentionalism take intentional content as an individuative feature of the phenomenal character of a mental state, they do not seem to offer a viable way to combine content externalism and phenomenological internalism. Only the second variety seems adequate in so far as it makes phenomenal character independent (for its individuation) of the intentional content of the state. I shall therefore try to develop this variety of SI which I shall label “mode intentionalism”. According to “mode intentionalism” the phenomenal/qualitative properties of a mental state are neither pure nor impure representational properties. Rather they are “presentational properties”; these properties do not belong to the content of the state (its “matter”), but rather qualify its mode (its “quality”). After having claimed that mode intentionalism needs a notion of mode more fine grained than the one which is standardly used in the philosophy of mind literature, I shall present the central claim of this position according to which the intentional mode of a conscious state has a subjective dimension that no non-(phenomenal) conscious state has. This subjective dimension will be presented as having two components: a to-me component and an aspectual component. The former is what makes a state a phenomenally conscious state, while the latter (which is the way in which what is represented is presented to the subject of the state, i.e. the manner of presentation of the state’s content) is responsible for a state being the particular phenomenally conscious state it is. After having criticized the widespread tendency (stemming from Brentano) to treat the subjective dimension as something which is represented in the state’s content, I shall show how mode intentionalism can provide a way out from the apparently inconsistent triad presented in the first part. The suggested way out will amount to the following: deny 2 (Intentional properties are wide) in its universal form; distinguish within the class of intentional properties representational properties (having to do with WHAT is represented) from presentational properties (having to do with HOW what is represented is presented to the experiencing subject); claim that only representational properties are wide – accepting therefore a modification of 2 (2* Representational properties are wide); claim that presentational properties are narrow.

I shall conclude by considering an objection that Crane could raise against my proposal. In discussing the (strong) intentionalist thesis Crane claims that “any plausible intentionalist view must allow that the intentional content contributes to the phenomenal character” (Crane, 2001, p. 85). If Crane is right, it would follow that my position, in so far as it denies that the phenomenal character of an act is determined by the intentional content of the act, would not qualify itself as a plausible intentionalist position after all. In addressing Crane’s critical point I shall claim that what the strong intentionalist has in my view to commit herself to is the thesis that the phenomenal character of a mental act is entirely determined by some intentional feature of the act. But, as Crane himself acknowledges, there are (at least) two main features in intentionality, namely: directionality and aspectuality and what I claim is that it is the latter that constitutes the phenomenal character. In so far as phenomenal character is determined by (experiential) aspectuality, and aspectuality is a feature of intentionality, mode intentionalism does not seem to be a spurious variety of intentionalism after all. Chalmers, D., 2004, The Representational Character of Experience, in The Future for Philosophy, Leiter (ed.), OUP, New York, 153-181. Crane, T.: 2001, Elements of Mind, OUP, Oxford. Dretske, F.: 1995, Naturalizing the Mind, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. Harman, G., 1990, “The Intrinsic Property of Experience”, Philosophical Perspectives, 4, 31-52. Lycan, W.G.: 1996, Consciousness and Experience, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. Tye, M.: 1995, Ten Problems of Consciousness, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. Tye, M.: 2000, Consciousness, Color and Content, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA Thau, M., 2002, Consciousness and Cognition, OUP, New York.