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Friday, February 20, 2009


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What you think about my distinction on the earlier post concerning the intentionality of sense faculties in general? Is that entirely missing the point? Maybe, as you say, it is a different sort of intention. I am not consciously or necessarily making an attempt to intend the cause of that pain. But can't one say that the very feeling or perception of pain is intentional? It seems hard for me to conceptualize that there can be a "looking" without a "looking at something."


Regarding the itch on the scalp you say "Attending carefully to the itch as it presents itself to me, I discern no object to which it points." But if that is true, why do you reach for your scalp in order to itch it? Why not your knee or your foot?

One explanation why could be that itchiness possesses/is constituted (at least in part) by intentionality such that it can take different regions of the self as objects. The itch in question here has the scalpy regions as its object.

I guess one response to this would be to claim that the scalpiness of the itch is included in the itchy-quale we are talking about such that there is no need for a division between itchiness and its object. But one worry with that approach is that it would treat as an irreducible whole what we intuitively take to have some sort of internal structure. For instance, we think that all achy pains, whether they are in the thighs, stomach or arms have some common element that warrants them all being achy pains. But according to the above response they would just be brutely different.

I should say that I have no truck with the Armstrongian suggestion that pains represent "damage to the body" or somesuch thing. Nor with the idea of eliminating phenomenological feels in favour of intentionality. So you can rest assured I am no blinkered naturalist!

My proposal (though I am not fully committed to it) would be something like this: The soul is spread throughout the body such that it is a spatial entity and has proper spatial subregions. When I feel a pain, the object of my pain will be the appropriate subregion of my soul.

I should also add that I have been pinching my thighs frequently this afternoon in an attempt to determine whether or not the pain is object directed. (The things philosophy can drive a man to do!) I actually find it quite hard to tell.


Oh, I know you haven't responded, but I found that Franz Brentano supported this contention for the intentionality of all mental content. But, maybe more on point, there is another paper specifically to address the topic of the intentionality of sensation (and pain/pleasure) by Elizabeth Anscombe, who seems to roughly hold my position. I have to go find a copy of that essay...


Tim Crane is a modern day defender of Brentano's thesis, check his book Elements of Mind, ch. 3.



I have been interested in reading some work by Brentano. Are there any editions of his work that are not priced through the roof? I looked at Routledge's edition and it was a little pricy for me. I tried to see if there was an edition on the web, but there isn't. I guess I could try the library. :)

Matt comments, Regarding the itch on the scalp you say "Attending carefully to the itch as it presents itself to me, I discern no object to which it points." But if that is true, why do you reach for your scalp in order to itch it? Why not your knee or your foot?

I am surprised that you seem not to be understanding anything I've been saying. This surprises me because in other threads you seem very sharp. For example, you seem to know well Plantinga-style modal metaphysics. Perhaps the problem is that you have never read descriptive psychologists and phenomenologists such as Brentano, Husserl, et al.

I am talking about the FELT itch, the PHENOMENAL itch, the itch just as it is present to consciousness under bracketing of questions about its cause. I am pointing out a PHENOMENOLOGICAL distinction, one between conscious states that are object-directed and those that are not. Your question above makes no sense unless you are confusing the intentional object of a cs. state with its cause. I thought I warned against that confusion, but maybe I didn't.

The reason I scratch my scalp is because it causes the itch to disappear. But the question I am posing has nothing to do with the etiology of conscious states, but with their phenomenology and nature.

I admit, though, that the topic is difficult and tricky and much depends on clarifying what exactly is meant by 'conscious,' 'act,' 'intentional object,' etc.


The library is the place to go.


Brentano maintains that all consciousness is intentional, but his greatest student Husserl disagrees. See Log Inv II, 556.

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional philosopher but I was a student of Time Crane's. I don't usually disagree with Searle but I must on this, I think Crane is right. In my view, pains, itches, etc., are intentional, they are not self-contained, isolated experiences. *Something* hurts, *something* itches, and the biological function of that experience is to make us attend to the cause of that experience.

Perhaps the confusion arises from treating "intentional" as "representational", I think that's a big mistake. Perceptual consciousness is not representational, it merely responds to reality, whatever that might be, an external entity impinging on its senses, or an internal condition such as a toothache. In this sense it is inherently relational, causally responding to those entities that act upon it.


You just don't understand the issue. Bear in mind that 'consciousness of something' is an objective not a subjective genitive construction. I can't explain this now. I can see that I ought to write another post on this topic.

Are all mental phenomena intentional?

The received view about this issue has been that there are certain mental items, sensations such as pains, itches, etc., that are not intentional. However, some commentators on this thread challenged this view and wish to hold that sensations possess the very same property of intentionality that is typically reserved to intentional attitudes such as beliefs, desires, wishes, hopes, seeking, cravings, needing, and so on do. Here is an example of an exchange between Bill and Matt on this issue:

Bill said on his main post “Searle on Non-Intentional Mental States”: “Attending carefully to the itch as it presents itself to me, I discern no object to which it points. Surely Searle is right: itches and the like are not about anything in the way a desire to drink a cold beer is about drinking a cold beer, or the seeing of a bobcat is about a bobcat and not a tire iron or nothing at all.”

To which Matt responds as follows:
“But if that is true, why do you reach for your scalp in order to itch it? Why not your knee or your foot?...One explanation why could be that itchiness possesses/is constituted (at least in part) by intentionality such that it can take different regions of the self as objects. The itch in question here has the scalpy regions as its object.”
(Posted, Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 08:47am on Searle on Non-Intentional Mental States)

The received view which Bill cites in his post is that the only *content* sensations (or ‘qualia’, in philosophical jargon) have is a certain phenomenological or felt quality; period! There is nothing else that is part of the content of a sensation except its felt quality. Of course, the sensation itself may have many other properties beyond its felt quality: e.g., it may have a physical location, certain duration in time, a cause. Call these later features of a sensation its *contextual-properties*. So the received view is that since the content of sensations includes only its felt-quality, none of the contextual-properties of a sensation are to be considered as part of the content of the sensation.
Now, Matt’s idea is to import one of the contextual-properties of an itch, namely its physical location, as part of the itch’s content. So according to Matt’s proposal, the itch’s location will play two roles. First, it will be one of the itch’s contextual-properties; namely, its physical location; and, second, it will also be part of the itch’s content. It is worth pondering whether Matt or others who are sympathetic to this view might wish to import other contextual-properties of sensations as part of their content: for instance, if we are already willing to view the itch’s location as part of its content, why not consider its duration or its cause as part of its content as well. Why stop at the geography of a sensation and not extend the idea to all of its contextual-properties?

Suppose we take Matt’s proposal seriously and examine whether it makes sense. Intentional attitudes come in two varieties. Some intentional attitudes are directed towards propositions or state of affairs, while others are directed towards objects (or regions as in “I am looking for the location of John’s farm”). The former are aptly called ‘propositional attitudes’: e.g., beliefs are directed toward propositions; wishes and hopes toward propositions or state of affairs. I do not recall whether intentional attitudes that are directed towards objects were given a collective name, but it is clear that they all share a common feature. If I crave a hamburger, then my craving is directed towards a hamburger type object. While my craving may be accompanied by a sensation; say, the sensation of being hungry, the craving and the sensation of hunger should be carefully distinguished. Of course, I may be craving a hamburger even though (and perhaps precisely because) hamburgers no longer exist: perhaps they were banned by the Health Police years ago or perhaps cows perished altogether. If I seek the Holy Grail, then I am looking for something that satisfies a certain (historical) description. Again, there may not be anything in the world that satisfies the historical description associated with the Holy Grail.

Let us now compare the essential features of intentional attitudes with sensations.

First, it is worth noting that while sensations almost always have a location, intentional attitudes never do. (One might take a certain materialist view and maintain that intentional attitudes are located in the brain. But such a materialist view will collectively assign the location of all intentional attitudes in the brain. By contrast, two itches may be located in completely different places on one’s body.) It simply does not make sense to say that my belief that the world is round is located here whereas my desire that there should be peace in the world is located there. Even my craving for a hamburger does not have a specific location, although my sensation of hunger does. So this is certainly one respect in which intentional attitudes and sensations differ.
Second, all intentional attitudes are subject to some normative assessment of one kind or another. My belief that the earth is round is either true or false; it is either based on evidence or it is not; it is either rational or it is not. I yearn that there should be peace in the world. You quite justifiably may respond that my desire will never be satisfied and that my yearning betrays a naïve view of human nature. I am seeking the Holy Grail. You will be in your right to accuse me of foolishly wasting my time because thousands looked for it without success and most likely it does not exist anyway. Even my craving a hamburger may be countered by noting that if I wish to remain healthy I ought to avoid satisfying such cravings or even have them altogether. So the content of intentional attitudes is in some form or another directed (but not always hitting the mark) towards something and precisely because of this fact it is always appropriate to subject intentional attitudes to some form of normative scrutiny.

What about Matt’s itch? Suppose we reckon the location of the itch as part of its content and, thus, view it as an intentional attitude of some kind. What type of normative assessment is relevant in this case? We must beware of making the following mistake. One might be tempted to argue that once we reckon the location of the itch as part of its content, we may assess whether it correctly reports its own location. Matt suggests something like this when he says “The itch in question here has the scalpy regions as its object.” And if the content of the itch has the “scalpy region” as its object, why not go a step further and deem it appropriate to ask whether the itch’s content correctly reports the scalpy region as its location. But, so doing will be a mistake.
First, as Bill emphasized, when we feel an itch, we form a variety of attitudes that have the itch as its object. Among them are attitudes which identify the location of this felt quality. These attitudes may be subject to several forms of normative assessment, including whether they are correct about the location of the itch. But, we must distinguish intentional attitudes that feature the itch as their object and the itch itself. Second, if we go as far as saying that an itch can have its location as its object; why not say that my liver, or heart, or even a table and a rock have content and this content contains their location as an object. If we are not careful here, we are liable to end up with a view whereby every physical object can be deemed as an intentional attitude with a content featuring its location as its object (since every physical object has a location).

Now, Matt might respond to my second point by saying that, unlike rocks, itches are essentially conscious entities. True! However, this response begs the question, for it assumes that because sensations, unlike rocks, feature consciousness, they are intentional. But this proposition was at the center of the debate in the first place.

The problem with Matt’s proposal is that the intentional content he wishes to ascribe to sensations plays no role that is not already played by their phenomenal or felt quality. By contrast, the content of genuine intentional attitudes, their object directedness, plays an indispensible role in the normative assessment of such attitudes. One might consider normative assessment as a working criterion for determining which mental states are intentional: a mental state is intentional only if there is a need to subject it to some form of normative assessment. I do not see what need there might be to subject itches to a normative assessment. Therefore, I do not see the value of Matt’s proposal.


Bill refers to Searle maintaining that itches, aches, and pains are not intentional.

Searle is a good person to cite; he is arguably the contemporary philosopher closest to Objectivism, particularly about consciousness. But I think he's wrong about these states.

Look beyond the words. Itches, pains, etc. are bodily sensations. Their intentional content is the state of one's body. "I feel a pain in my tooth" expresses the intentionality, but "My tooth hurts" doesn't in any obvious sense. Nevertheless, bodily sensations are forms of experiencing the condition of the body. That's not only their philosophic analysis, that's their biological function; that's why they evolved--i.e., to provided awareness of the body's state. (Itching, on one current theory, evolved to detect and motivate the elimination of parasites, like fleas; dogs and cats itch too.)

Now consider how I'm using "consciousness is intentional" to defend the primacy of existence. The argument has the following steps.

1. Every act of consciousness has an object or content.

2. If the apparent object does not exist in the external, mind-independent world, it exists as a content of consciousness (in which case we call it "mental content" rather than using the term "object").

3. Mental contents (as distinguished from objects) are "internal," mind-dependent.

4a. Mental contents can exist only as derivative from prior awareness of something. (As when you imagine a golden mountain by combining your memories of gold and mountains.)

4b. Mental contents can be identified as "mental content" rather than something mind-independent, only by contrast with awareness of something.

5. To avoid infinite regress, the "something" in 4a and 4b, ultimately, cannot be further mental content but must reach awareness of object--i.e., that which isn't derivative from prior awareness.

Now let's apply that to both the case of seeing a tree and to feeling a pain in your arm.

1'. Every act of seeing/feeling pain has an object or content. (E.g., you see a tree; you feel a condition of your arm.)

2'. If the putative object does not exist in the external, mind independent world, it exists as mental content. (E.g., when you hallucinate a tree, the tree-image is not an external object, but a content of consciousness; if you have "phantom-limb" pain in an amputated arm, the arm-condition is not an external object, but a content of consciousness.)

3'. Mental contents (as distinguished from object) are "internal," mind-dependent.

4a'. The content of the hallucination or phantom-limb-pain can exist only as derivative from prior awareness of something. (E.g., for the tree-hallucination, prior awareness of shapes and colors or real objects; for the phantom-limb-pain, prior awareness of the limb.)

4b'. The content of the hallucination or phantom-limb-pain can be identified as "mental content" rather than something mind-independent, only by contrast with awareness of something. (E.g., I can't touch the tree, it doesn't vary in perspective or detail as I move closer to it, or whatever leads one to identify it as a hallucination; for the phantom-limb-pain, obviously one is perceptually aware that the arm isn't there at all.)

5'. To avoid infinite regress . . . Here, all that means is: the prior awareness of shapes and colors, or of your limb, etc. couldn't always have been likewise acts with content but no object.

So it seems that sensations are fully on a par with other acts of consciousness in the philosophically crucial sense that their intentionality implies their being, or being derivative from, awareness of something mind-independent.


That's a carefully formulated and interesting discussion of intentionality. (I had not read it when I posted on bodily sensations.) Two quick comments:

1. Do you think my view, that sensations are "about" the state of the body, escapes the objections to Matt's narrower view that they have "location"?

2. Although conceptual-level consciousness is subject to norms, perception isn't. And yet perception is quintessentially intentional--you see, hear, taste, smell something. Emotions, too. If "ought implies can," then there are no norms for the automatic. Here again, the metaphysically given vs. the man-made comes into play. Perception is metaphysically given, thinking is man-made.

Emotions are kind of a cross: the beliefs and values that underlie them are man-made, but given that these have been automatized, their activation in an emotion is metaphysically given. And the norms apply in just the appropriate way to emotions ("I don't blame you for feeling that way now, given your ingrained views, but those views are wrong, and you reached them and reinforced them illogically.")


Thanks for your fine contribution. Your hamburger example brings the issue into clear focus.

Your point about normative assessment is important. Your view appears to be that intentional states are subject to normative assessment, while non-intentional conscious states are not. To give an example of my own, visually perceiving a coyote is an intentional state. One can ask: is the perceiving veridical? People have been known to confuse man's dog (the domestic dog) with God's dog (the coyote). Visual perceivings are thus normatively assessable in point of veridicality/nonveridicality. If you claim to see a coyote, it would be appropriate for me to say: "Look harder, that's a domestic dog -- see the collar?" But it would not be appropriate for my dentist, while bearing down with his drill, to say to me: "Your pain is unreal; you are mistaking pressure for pain." The dental pain is not directed to an accusative that is either true or false or existent or nonexistent. The pain is not directed to anything; it just is.

But what if someone objects that the dental pain is normatively assessable as bad? What would you say to that, Peter?

The aim of Professor Binswanger's argument is to show the primacy of existence over consciousness: mental content is not primary but derived from the external world. But premise 4a assumes just the conclusion the argument aims to establish, since it asserts that mental content is derivative.


I don't think I am making the rather elementary confusion you think I am. Causal relations don't come into my claim at all; I'm claiming that, at least some of the time (if not all of the time), token pains, yes FELT, PHENOMENAL pains, are object-directed. The sorts of objects I was suggesting they take are regions of the soul, the soul being spatially isomorphic to the body.

You claim I don't understand you. Well, this is what I take your argument to be: when I think about pain I don't find that it is object directed, so pain (at the very least) doesn't have to be object directed.

But that won't do. There are unacceptable parodies: one can think about redness while abstracting it away from any notion of a spatial region, but does that mean that an instance of red can occur without any spatial region for it to be stuck in? Not at all (sense-data, if they exist, must be spatial regions of a sort). Perhaps one can do the same thing with triangularity and trilaterality, but they are necessarily co-extensive.

I think the only reason you find it plausible that pain isn't object directed is because you are unconsciously taking the painful feel common to pain-states and abstracting it away from suggestions of location. But this doesn't prove that there can be a pain-state that isn't directed.

I grant I haven't proved that you are performing the above move. But neither have you proved that you aren't doing it. Accordingly, I am agnostic about phenomenological proofs of the directionality of pain-states. (My own introspective deliverances aren't clear.)

You also claim 'The reason I scratch my scalp is because it causes the itch to disappear.' If this is the only connection between felt pains and location - a causal one - then how do you stop this from having the implausible consequence that a newborn baby with an itch in their scalp would have to scratch all over their body before they found that it was by scratching their scalp that the itch went away? The knowledge of the location of the pain/itch is clearly a priori (and therefore non-causal). The question is, how do we account for such knowledge? An easy way would be to hold that pain-states are intentional.

That's my argument folks!


Thanks for your thoughtful response. However, you misunderstand my view. I'm not trying to import *contextual-properties* into a pain-state. To try to explain, here's what I take the structure of intentional states to be:

Subject - Mode - Object.

Some examples:

Wendy - Hopes - Michael will get home in time for tea (a certain state of affairs).
Fred - Believes - God exists.

And so on.

My proposal is that we add pains and so on to this list. So if Sandy feels that her leg is broken we get, on my theory:

Sandy - Feeling - Leg region of the soul.

Now what about the painfulness you say? I have two options: I could say that the painfulness is what (at least partially) constitutes the mode (Feeling) or that it is a property of the mode. I'm indifferent to this.

You also claim that "all intentional attitudes are subject to some normative assessment of one kind or another." That is true in my case - it's just that painful intentional attitudes never come out false (remember I'm talking soul locations not bodily locations). But it's also worth pointing out that normative assessment can plausibly be viewed as inessential to intentionality - what's crucial about intentionality is its directedness. So if we find, and I am not defending the possibility, a directed mental state not subject to normative assessment, we should nevertheless call it an intentional state.

The motivation for my view is something like the baby case above - if the force of that can be removed, then I'll concede that much to motivate my position has been lost.


Correction, please: I should have said "Premise 4a assumes the crucial part of the conclusion the argument aims to establish, since it asserts that mental content is derivative."

David G,

Your claim is that HB's argument begs the question at line (4a). But it seems to me that HB begs the question already at line (1)! So much in a discussion like this depends on how exactly we are using words like 'object' and 'act,' etc. Here is Harry's (1):

1. Every act of consciousness has an object or content.

Now what does Harry mean by 'object'? From lines (2) and (3) it is clear to me that by 'object' he means 'mind-independent existent.' Harry is entitled to that use. But then (1) is just a statement in other words of his conclusion, namely, the primacy of existence. He apparently thinks that the intentionality of consciousness is sufficient proof of the the primacy of existence. But it turns out that he builds the primacy of existence right into the intentionality of consciousness. His 'proof' really comes down to this: It is the very nature of consciousness to be consciousness of something that exists independently of consciousness; therefore, things exist independently of consciousness.

For Objectivists, the primacy of existence is an axiom. As such, it is a non-negotiable starting point. If I understand you, you are not denying the CONTENT of their axiom, but its AXIOMATICITY and thus its immunity to being questioned and validated. In other words, you are not denying the primacy of existence; you are denying that it is self-evident or beyound question or not such as to need validation.


Bill wrote:

One can ask: is the perceiving veridical? People have been known to confuse man's dog (the domestic dog) with God's dog (the coyote). Visual perceivings are thus normatively assessable in point of veridicality/nonveridicality. If you claim to see a coyote, it would be appropriate for me to say: "Look harder, that's a domestic dog -- see the collar?

There's a conflation there of perceiving and conceiving. Perception itself has no propositional content--it doesn't contain judgments, such as "that's an X" it just presents you with a scene. This is standard Aristotelian/Thomist stuff, and I'm rather surprised to see you not considering it.

Whether what you see is to be classified conceptually as a dog, a coyote, or whatever is fallible. The perceiving is infallible--because it is a) a deterministic causal process and b) makes no judgment that could fail or be wrong.

Perceptions can differ quantitatively (the color-blind man gets less information than we do) but not qualitatively (the data they give is the data they give).

[Man's] senses do not provide him with automatic knowledge in separate snatches independent of context, but only with the material of knowledge, which his mind must learn to integrate . . . [He learns that] his senses cannot deceive him, that physical objects cannot act without causes, that his organs of perception are physical and have no volition, no power to invent or to distort, that the evidence they give him is an absolute, but his mind must learn to understand it, his mind must discover the nature, the causes, the full context of his sensory material, his mind must identify the things that he perceives. Atlas Shrugged, p. 1041]

Harry - I'm trying to get a handle on how you understand the content of perceptual states, and wondering whether in denying that percpetions involve judgments such as "that's an x" you also reject the notion that everything perceived is perceived "under a description". For example, we might contrast "x perceives that y is red," and "x perceives y as red." The former, with the 'that', is clearly propositional, so you'd reject it. How about the latter?


I think I can explain more clearly just what I think your fallacy is. You are arguing

1) When I attend to pain, I don't find it object-directed.
2) If I attend to such a mental item and don't find that it possesses property p, property p can't be an essential property of that item.
3) Object-directedness can't be an essential property of pain.

What you mean by pain is ambiguous between i) "pain-state" and ii) "painfulness" the universal.

If you intend i) throughout I can then I can deny 1) & 2) with a fair degree of plausibility. The ontological structure of a mental state can be a tricky business and we can't be expected to know a priori what properties are exemplified in all quarters of it.
If you intend ii) throughout then I accept the argument, but it is pain-states that we are discussing not painfulness, in which case your argument is irrelevant.



Yep, "under a description" goes beyond perception. You can't perceive that X is red (or "that" . . . anything). Perception is just the seeing, not the "seeing that." It's the scene, not the interpretation of it. A bird or a fish sees things. They don't judge what they see, interpret it, classify it. They just react to what they see. (Same for other sense modalities.)

One application: so-called "optical illusions" are not cases of the senses being "mistaken" (an impossible concept) but of the intellect being mistaken (or misled).

Harry - Your response leaves me confused about your intended meaning. I was contrasting "seeing that" with "seeing as"; but your response simply assimilates "seeing as" to "seeing that". I probably misled by use of the "under a description" locution, with its connotations of linguistic competence. So, dropping the "under a description" locution, I think a distinction might be made between "seeing that x is red" and "seeing x as red", where the former is clearly propositional while the latter is not. What I was trying to draw attention to was a sense in which "seeing x as red" would just be "seeing the redness of x". If that's at all plausible, one could develop an account of the content of a perceptual state that doesn't portray that content as propositional.


Thanks for your comments. I see that a response I wrote a couple of hours ago has disappeared into the ether. I'll have to return to this topic tomorrow.


You are exactly right on what I am claiming.

I think, though, that Harry Binswanger's premise (1) need not be read as begging the question. As he uses "content" [see his comment on premise (3)], it isn't built into this notion that it be derived from an external object. Thus, when he says that every act of consciousness has an object or content, this doesn't directly imply that every act of consciousness has an object,in his sense. It's for this reason that I don't think he begs the question until 4a.

Before I respond to some of the generous as well as critical comments some of you made about my post, I wish to bring up an important lapse on my part. I have argued in that post that intentional attitudes and sensations differ with respect to geography and with respect to normative assessment. I neglected to mention the most salient feature that distinguishes intentional attitudes from sensations; namely their *opaqueness*. That is, substitutivity of identicals fails in the context of intentional attitudes (hence, they are often referred to as “intensional contexts” vs. extensional contexts, where substitutivity holds).

So if I crave that hamburger over there and that hamburger over there is identical to a poisoned laced hamburger, then it does not follow that I crave a poisoned laced hamburger. By contrast, sensations do not have content other than their felt quality. So if I feel a terrible toothache and this terrible toothache is the same as the toothache that prevented me from going to work today, then I feel the toothache that prevented me from going to work today. Thus, feeling pain is an extensional context: substitution is preserved.

We have identified four characteristics that distinguish intentional attitudes:
(a) While sensations have a physical location, intentional attitudes do not;
(b) While sensations form an extensional context, intentional attitudes are intensional (opaque);
(c) While normative assessment is an essential feature of intentional attitudes, it is not pertinent for sensations;
(d) Existential exportation fails in the case of intentional attitudes.

I think that there is an intimate connection between features (b), (c), and (d). I am unable to link (a) to the rest. Normative assessment is essential in the case of intentional attitudes precisely because existential exportation and substitutivity fail. Since we know that if John believes that Santa Clause visited him yesterday, it does not follow logically that Santa Clause exists; it is appropriate to demand evidence in order to accept such an assertion. Failure of substitutivity in the context of intentional attitudes may be also viewed as grounds for inviting normative assessment. Suppose John believes that his neighbor is a loyal American citizen. Suppose we disagree. How can we convince John that his view of his neighbor’s character is wrong? Well, we may produce proof that unbeknownst to John his neighbor is the very same man who is wanted by the authorities for being a Russian spy. And this form of normative scrutiny is possible and required precisely because from the fact that John believes that his neighbor is a loyal American citizen together with the fact that his neighbor is identical to the most wanted Russian spy, it does not *logically* follow that John believes that his neighbor is the most wanted Russian spy. We cannot simply convince John that he is engaged in a logical blunder. We must bring him to also believe in the identity statement. Therefore, logic alone cannot adjudicate such questions: empirical evidence as to the identity between John’s neighbor and the most wanted Russian spy is required.
None of these considerations apply to contexts created by sensations or qualia.

Now, Bill in his response to my previous post asked the following question: “But what if someone objects that the dental pain is normatively assessable as bad? What would you say to that, Peter?” I would answer that the sense in which a toothache is bad is not the same sense of normative scrutiny I invoked. The sense of normative scrutiny or assessment of intentional attitudes I had in my mind is the usual sense in which we evaluate beliefs, desires, hopes, and even cravings, or the seeking of something in terms of certain rational criteria that are themselves normative in nature and according to which we might deem one or another of these attitudes lacking. By contrast, it makes no sense to evaluate a toothache or an itch with respect to whether it is adequately supported by evidence or whether it is consistent with another itch one had earlier this morning. The fact that a toothache is bad is a brute fact; it is bad in the sense that it is unpleasant and under normal circumstances it is something one wishes to avoid. The fact that an itch is annoying and causes one to want to scratch it is a brute fact; under normal circumstances, it makes no sense to criticize someone for feeling annoyed by an itch or desperately wanting to scratch it.

Matt in one of his comments about my claim that normative assessment in the above sense is essential to intentional attitudes advanced the following view: “But it's also worth pointing out that normative assessment can plausibly be viewed as inessential to intentionality - what's crucial about intentionality is its directedness.”

I do not see how such a view could possibly be true. While object directedness and the failure of substitutivity and existential exportation are all related and each is essential to form an intentional attitude, normative assessment is what makes such attitudes special in our perception of ourselves as cognitive beings. We criticize and hold someone responsible for what they do because we think that what they do stems from what they think and want. We criticize someone’s desires because we think pursuing them is short sighted and not to their own long term well being. We debate different beliefs and opinions because we think that they ought to be supported by some kind of argument. In the absence of normative scrutiny intentional attitudes would be no different than one’s height, mass, or having a liver or a toothache or an itch. And we do not criticize someone for having a toothache or an itch or praise them for having a liver or a mass. So I do not think that Matt’s position here is defensible at all.

Thanks, Peter. Summarizing:

1. Peter craves the hamburger on the counter
2. The hamburger on the counter is laced with poison
3. Peter craves a hamburger laced with poison.

4. Peter feels toothache
5. The toothache Peter feels = the pain that kept Peter home.
6. Peter feels the pain that kept Peter home.

The first argument is invalid, the second valid. The difference is explained by saying that craving is an intentional state while feeling toothache is not.

But I believe Searle says somewhere that intenSionality and intenTionality are not be be conflated as Peter has done. I will have to look into this.


I just noticed that Bill in another post already included the opaque feature of intentional attitudes as one of their essential characteristics. I did not recall reading that post. So I need to acknowledge this fact.



The term 'intensionality' is used either to mean a context in which substitution fails (e.g., intentional contexts) or to denote the meaning or that property which determines reference of a term or phrase.

In the first sense, then, intenSionality is a wider category than intenTionality because while the former applies to the later, it also applies to modal contexts such as possible and necessary in which substitution of (non-rigid) terms fails.

So the first argument is invalid because the context 'craves' is intensional (in the first sense above). On the other hand, the argument is valid because the context 'feels pain' is extensional. So we do not need to conflate intensional with intentional in order to make the right distinctions here.


I always enjoy Dr.Vallicella's posts in general, but specially I like his articles on philosophy of mind.

I'd like to ask to all of you if "naussea" has some intentional content. I tend to think that all mental states are intentional, but I'm not sure.

The case of "naussea" could be a counterexample? I can't see any obvious or discernible intentionality in it.

In other but related topic, philosopher Mark Crooks wrote one of the best critical analysis that I've read of Daniel Dennett's philosophy of mind:



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