Notes on Naturalizing the Mind

Naturalizing intentionality is easy. We could go Searle’s route, and argue for a causal, but not ontological, reduction of intentionality and intentional states, as well as their emergence from brain processes. Intentionality here would be inseparable from consciousness, and would be a way of representing the world so we can act on it. Keeping with Searle, an arrangement of particles by an agent would be an example of derived intentionality, the same kind of intentionality that language has.

Or, if we decided to reject the representationalism that is the bedrock of Searle’s position and get a little continental, we could go with Okrent’s telelogically based intentionality, which requires no attribution of internal intentional/mental states.

Or, if we wanted to go a different, but still non-representational route, we could follow Brandom (or rather, follow Brandom following Kant and Hegel and Wittgenstein) in arguing that intentionality can be reduced to norms governing inferential practices.

None of these folks (and many more could be listed) are eliminativists or clinging to fringe-theories. Classifying them as reductionist is probably not the right term either, since, for example, Searle explicitly rejects reductionism. Now, of course, none of these positions are without fault, and I’d be the first to point that out (and Searle in particular has no shortage of critics – Kim, Fodor, Milikan, Dennett). But there is no shortage of defensible positions on these issues.
Okrent’s notion of principle is far from being a mere non-survival-related action. He explicitly says that:

‘Because human agents are practically rational, we will always drive towards the consistency and inferential closure of any system of principles that we find to motivate our behaviour. This allows the possibility that we can come to be motivated to act on principles that neither can be derive from nor are consistent with the principles that would be justified on purely biologically instrumental grounds.’ (p. 195)

These principles aren’t abstract but have concrete, social roles and origins, which also goes a long way towards answering objections based on normativity.

Assuming that intentionality is the fundamental nature of consciousness – is a debatable viewpoint. Plus, there’s no shortage of contortions of your own you have to go through if you assert that consciousness is intentional, since that entails that every conscious state is an intentional one. Consciousness certainly includes awareness, but that doesn’t entail that every conscious state is an intentional state:

‘Now clearly, not all our mental states are in this way directed or Intentional. For example, if I have a pain, ache, tickle, or itch, such conscious states are not in that sense directed at anything; they are not ‘about’ anything, in the way that our beliefs, fears, etc. must in some sense be about something. (“What is an Intentional State?” in Dreyfus, ed. Husserl, Intentionality and Cognitive Science, p. 259.)

Now, obviously a pain, or itch, or ache, can be made the object of intentional reflection. I can direct my thought towards or about those things. But the pain or itch itself doesn’t have an intentional object. A perception-al state, a visual experience, has intrinsic intentionality because all seeing, for example, is a seeing-that. This is real, intrinsic intentionality that is had by a physical system, process, whatever you want to call it. Dretske’s doctrine of information-theoretic intentionality has also shown how physical systems or objects or whatever can have intentionality building on Grice’s doctrine meaning – the term ‘smoke’ has derived intentionality. It means fire in a non-natural way. Smoke, however, means fire. Smoke carries information about fire and does so in a nomological relation – to quote the SEP:

‘In essence, the information-theoretic proposal is that device S carries information about instantiations of property G if and only if S’s being F is nomically correlated with instantiations of G. If S would not be F unless property G were instantiated, then S’s being F carries information about, or as Dretske likes to say, indicates G-ness. A fingerprint carries information about the identity of the human being whose finger was imprinted. Spots on a human face carry information about a disease. The height of the column of mercury in a thermometer carries information about the temperature. A gas-gauge on the dashboard of a car carries information about the amount of fuel in the car tank. The position of a needle in a galvanometer carries information about the flow of electric current. A compass carries information about the location of the North pole. In all such cases, a property of a physical device nomically covaries with some physical property instantiated in its environment.’



2 thoughts on “Notes on Naturalizing the Mind

    • Joshua August 6, 2016 / 1:32 pm

      I was unaware that I had to write on only one of those two.

      Liked by 1 person

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