One who balks at intentional objects on the ground of their queerness will presumably also balk at dispositional objects. But there is reason to speak of dispositional objects. And there is the outside chance that the foes of intentional objects might be 'softened up' by a discussion of dispositions and their objects. But I am not particularly sanguine about bringing the Londonistas out from under their fog and into the Phoenician sunshine.
We can sensibly speak of object-directedness both in the case of thoughts (acts of thinking) and in the case of dispositions (powers, potencies, capacities, and the like). I cannot think without thinking of something. That of which I am thinking is reasonably called the object of my thought. Said object may or may not exist. So we speak of intentional objects. The intentional object of a mental act is the object precisely as intended in the act.
But dispositions have objects too. Call them 'dispositional objects.' Dispositions are directed to these objects which may or may not occur. Thus dispositions to dissolve, shatter, or swell under certain circumstances are directed to dissolvings, shatterings, and swellings which may or may not occur, and indeed without prejudice to object-directedness.
A sugar cube, for example, is disposed to dissolve if immersed in water or some other fluid. Distinguish the following four: the sugar cube, its disposition to dissolve, the causal factors needed to trigger the disposition, and the manifestation of the disposition, i.e., its actual dissolving. The last-mentioned is the object of the disposition, the dispositional object. It is an event that may or may not occur depending on circumstances. A disposition can exist without ever occurring. Suppose a sugar cube is manufactured, exists for a year, and then is destroyed by being pulverized with a hammer. It never dissolves. But at each time during its career it harbors the disposition to dissolve. It is liable to dissolve whether or not it ever does dissolve. It follows that one must not confuse a disposition with its manifestation. Dispositions are what they are whether or not they are manifested, whether or not their dispositional objects occur.
Similarly, acts of thinking are what they are and have the specific aboutness that they have whether or not their intentional objects exist in reality. In an earlier post I drew out the parallel between intentionality and dispositionality more fully. There is no need to repeat myself here. The point I want to make in this post is as follows.
If you admit that there are dispositions, then you must admit that there are dispositional objects. Thus if you admit that a sugar cube, say, has the disposition to dissolve in certain circumstances, then you must admit that this disposition points beyond itself to an event -- the manifestation of the disposition -- that may or may not occur. Why then balk at intentional objects?
Note that the following is apparently contradictory: X is disposed to do something (e.g., shatter) but nothing is such that X is disposed to it. That parallels: I am thinking of something but nothing is such that I am thinking of it. Clearly, both statement-forms have some true substitution-instances. So the statement forms are not contradictory.
How do we show that the apparent contradictions are not real? By distinguishing between intentional and dispositional objects on the one hand and real objects (objects-as-entities) on the other.
How will the Londonistas respond? Will they deny that there are dispositions? They might. But if they accept dispositions, then they must accept dispositional objects and a fortiori intentional objects. I write 'a fortiori' because, while dispositionality can be doubted, intentionality cannot be doubted, it being phenomenologically evident. It is certain that I think and just as certain that I cannot think without thinking of something.
The influential Austrian philosopher Franz Brentano took intentionality to be the mark of the mental, the criterion whereby physical and mental phenomena are distinguished. For Brentano, (i) all mental phenomena are intentional, (ii) all intentional phenomena are mental, and (iii) no mental phenomenon is physical. (Franz Brentano, Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt (1874), Bk. II, Ch. 1.)
What is intentionality? ‘Intentionality’ is Brentano's term of art (borrowed from the Medievals) for that property of mental states whereby they are (non-derivatively) of, or about, or directed to, an object. Such states are intrinsically such that they 'take an accusative.' The state of perceiving, for example is necessarily object-directed. One cannot just perceive; if one perceives, then one perceives something. The idea is not merely that when one perceives one perceives something or other; the idea is that when one perceives, one perceives some specific object, the very object of that very act. The same goes for intending (in the narrow sense), believing, imagining, recollecting, wishing, willing, desiring, loving, hating, judging, knowing, etc. Such mental states refer beyond themselves to objects that may or may not exist, or may or may not be true in the case of propositional objects. Reference to an object is thus an intrinsic feature of mental states and not a feature they have in virtue of a relation to an existing object. This is why Brentano speaks of the "intentional in-existence of an object." It is also why Husserl can 'bracket' the existence of the object for phenomenological purposes. Intentionality is not a relation, strictly speaking, though it is relation-like. This is an important point that many contemporaries seem incapable of wrapping their heads around.
There are some interesting points of analogy between intentionality and potentiality. An intentional state exhibits
C. B. Martin, "Dispositions and Conditionals," The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 174, January 1994, p. 1:
We must see that dispositions are actual, though their manifestations may not be. It is an elementary confusion to think of unmanifesting dispositions as unactualized possibilia, though that may characterize unmanifested manifestations.
Consider two panes of thin glass side by side in a window. The two panes are of the same type of glass, and neither has been specially treated. A rock is thrown at one, call it pane A, and it shatters. The other pane, call it B, receives no such impact. We know that A is fragile from the fact that it shattered. ("Potency is known through act," an Aristotelian might say.) We don't have quite the same assurance that B is fragile, but we have good reason to think that it is since it is made of the same kind of glass as A.
I have already introduced PIP, PEP, and PAP as three principles governing potentiality in the precise sense relevant to the Potentiality Argument. Now I introduce a fourth principle for your inspection which I will call the Potentiality Universality Principle:
PUP: Necessarily, if a normal F has the potentiality to become a G, then every normal F has the potentiality to become a G.
I claim that the standard objections to the Potentiality Argument (PA) are very weak and can be answered. This is especially so with respect to Joel Feinberg's "logical point about potentiality," which alone I will discuss in this post. This often-made objection is extremely weak and should persuade no rational person. But first a guideline for the discussion.
The issue is solely whether Feinberg's objection is probative, that and nothing else. Thus one may not introduce any consideration or demand extraneous to this one issue. One may not demand of me a proof of the Potentiality Principle (PP), to be set forth in a moment. I have an argument for PP, but that is not the issue currently under discussion. Again the issue is solely whether Feinberg's "logical point about potentiality" refutes the PA. Progress is out of the question unless we 'focus like a laser' on the precise issue under consideration.
Pointing to a lump of raw ground beef, someone might say, "This is a potential hamburger." Or, pointing to a hunk of bronze, "This is a potential statue." Someone who says such things is not misusing the English language, but he is not using 'potential' in the strong specific way that potentialists -- proponents of the Potentiality Principle -- are using the word. What is the difference? What is the difference between the two examples just given, and "This acorn is a potential oak tree," and "This embryo is a potential person?"
The idea behind the Potentiality Principle (PP) is that potential personhood confers a right to life. For present purposes we may define a person as anything that is sentient, rational, and self-aware. Actual persons have a right to life, a right not to be killed. Presumably we all accept the following Rights Principle:
RP: All persons have a right to life.
What PP does is simply extend the right to life to potential persons. Thus,
PP. All potential persons have a right to life.
PP allows us to mount a very powerful argument, the Potentiality Argument (PA), against the moral acceptability of abortion. Given PP, and the fact that human fetuses are potential persons, it follows that they have a right to life. From the right to life follows the right not to be killed, except perhaps in some extreme circumstances.
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd ed., p. 299, Rand speaking:
What do you mean by "necessity"? By "necessity," we mean that things are a certain way and had to be. I would maintain that the statement "Things are," when referring to non-man-made occurrences, is the synonym of "They had to be." Because unless we start with the premise of an arbitrary God who creates nature, what is had to be. We have to drop any mystical premise and keep the full context in mind. Then, aside from human action, what things are is what they had to be.
The alternative of what "had to be" versus "what didn't have to be" doesn't apply metaphysically. It applies only to the realm of human action and human choice."
First of all, 'Things are' and 'Things had to be' cannot be synonyms since they obviously have different meanings as anyone who understands English knows. But let's be charitable. What Rand is trying to say is that every non-man-made occurrence is such that 'had to be' applies to it, and every man-made occurrence is such that 'did not have to be' applies to it. Charitably construed, she is not making a false semantic point, but two modal points. The first is that nothing non-man-made is contingent or, equivalently, that everything non-man-made is necessary. The second modal point is that the man-made is contingent. I will discuss only the first modal point. It is not obvious and is denied by many philosophers both theists and atheists. So it is legitimate to demand an argument for the thesis.