Limits of Intention and the Representational Mind

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Limits of Intention and the Representational Mind
   Michael Schmitz Limits of Intention and the Representational Mind ¹   1 The Role of Philosophy in the Cooperative Study of Intention What can philosophy contribute to the study of intention? A fairly neutral, non-contentious description of philosophy that most practitioners and observers of philosophy will be able to agree on is that philosophy is concerned with our basic framework for understanding the world and finding our way in it. The basic idea is that, while individuals and groups in science and numerous other traditions and contexts such as the law and politics apply certain frameworks such as the framework of material bodies or of moral agents, philosophy is concerned with these frameworks ‘as such’, for their own sake. Traditionally, this idea has often taken the form that philosophy is concerned with a priori knowledge, and this notion in turn has more recently often been cashed out as the idea that philoso-phy deals with meaning and concepts. However, this conception of philosophy has been under attack for a long time. Can we make a separation between con-ceptual and empirical, a priori and a posteriori elements of knowledge at all? And what does it mean to study concepts in the first place? Philosophers often talk as if there is a certain determinate and right way that a concept is – the true nature of the concept, as it were – but it is hard to make sense of this if we want to avoid the platonist idea that concepts have an existence independently of thinkers and speakers. If on the other hand the significance of concepts is entirely determined by how individuals or groups think and speak, it is very questionable why the way that these concepts are used – by this individual or group at this point in time – should have any special authority, should in any sense be the correct way; why philosophers should have any special authority in investigating this; and why this investigation should be a priori. 1  This research was supported by a grant of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to the re-search group “Limits of Intentionality” at the University of Konstanz, for which I am grateful. I thank the members of the research group and the audience at our final conference in Konstanz for feedback. Special thanks to Gottfried Seebaß for helpful comments and to Melynda Moseley for improving my English. Bereitgestellt von | De Gruyter / TCSAngemeldet | 46 30 84 116Heruntergeladen am | 23 12 13 05:24  58    Michael Schmitz  I believe it is for reasons of this kind that the move away from the concep-tion of philosophy as being concerned with a priori investigations of concepts has recently accelerated. Within this general trend I believe we can broadly dis-tinguish three different strands that respectively embody different conceptions of philosophy. First, there is the rapidly growing movement of Experimental Phi-losophy (Knobe and Nichols 2008) that seeks to put the philosophical study of concepts on a sound empirical footing. Second, there are those who remain in the armchair, but resolutely turn their back on conceptual analysis and embrace metaphysics as a substantive mode of enquiry into the structure of reality distinct from science (e.g. Williamson 2007). Third, there has been a trend in the philoso-phy of mind, already embodied in the very notion of Cognitive Science, to study mental phenomena in much closer cooperation with empirical science than has been customary for the most part of the 20 th  century. The approach I have followed in my work in the context of the interdisci-plinary research group “Limits of Intentionality” has been most strongly influ-enced by the third trend. But I think there is something right about the other approaches, too. I agree with proponents of the second approach that philosophy should not merely be the study of concepts. Philosophy should, for example, be able to investigate intentions, not merely their concepts. Nor should the philoso-phy of mind be reduced to a philosophy of psychology or of other sciences con-cerned with the mind. However, there is a difference here with regard to how such an investigation is conceived that is important, though it can be fairly subtle. A picture according to which there are two distinct subject matters here, say the psychological and the metaphysical nature of intention, with the latter being the sole province of philosophy, does not strike me as very plausible. I suggest to rather think of the study of intention as a cooperative effort. The role of philoso-phy would be to develop conceptual frameworks for this study, but these frame-works should be geared towards being useful for the empirical study of intentions and other mental phenomena. Their adequacy and success should be judged by whether they are able to synthesize empirical results from various disciplines and pave the ground for and inspire new scientific findings, not by whether they ade-quately capture a metaphysical nature of phenomena supposedly distinct from their psychological (or biological etc.) nature. On this conception of the role of philosophy, the philosopher is not seen as an expert for a specific subject matter, but for a specific stage or aspect of inquiry. As Thomas Kuhn (1962) has shown, there are philosophical stages in the devel-opment of even the most hard-nosed sciences, namely in scientific revolutions, when paradigms change. During these periods, there is widespread discussion of philosophical aspects of scientific frameworks among scientists, whereas usually these are just taken for granted. Philosophers are simply the experts for these Bereitgestellt von | De Gruyter / TCSAngemeldet | 46 30 84 116Heruntergeladen am | 23 12 13 05:24   Limits of Intention and the Representational Mind   59 kinds of framework questions. Of course, this cannot mean that philosophers can simply prescribe which framework scientists should use – even if they could agree about that amongst themselves. Science must set its own agenda. But it does mean that scientists should be open to what the experts have to say on these matters, just like philosophers need to be open to empirical findings. Finally, what I am saying here is not meant to imply that philosophers should not be interested in the ordinary understanding of concepts, nor that they should not study this understanding empirically as advocated by proponents of Experi-mental Philosophy. The argument is just that an understanding of ordinary con-cepts is a starting point rather than an endpoint of philosophical inquiry. It is useful to get clear about the ordinary concept because, after all, it embodies the accumulated collective wisdom of a speech community. It may also be a valuable source of inspiration because the ordinary understanding may preserve certain aspects of a phenomenon neglected at a specific historic point of its scientific investigation, for example, because of methodological constraints. But at the same time we should expect that the ordinary concept, which is itself only a stage in the development of thought, needs to be modified further to improve our understanding of the phenomenon. 2 A Representationalist Framework for Intentions and their Limits In the spirit just described, I have developed a framework for understanding intentions and their limits, which was the special focus of our research group. I have interpreted this talk of “limits” in three senses. The first sense refers to delimiting the concept of intention and thus also of related concepts like goal, action, desire, and practical knowledge, the second to limits of the control inten-tions have over actions. The tasks of investigating the limits of intentionality in both these senses are intimately related because of course depending on how one defines the concepts of action and intention, one will get different answers to the question of the efficacy of intentions. For example, on most traditional philosophical accounts of these concepts and their relation, a behavior would need to be caused by an intention in order to count as an action, or at least as an intentional action. Otherwise it would be mere behavior. One main focus of my investigations has been to delimit actions more strictly from intentions, to develop a view of action that sees it as more independent of intentions than tra-ditional theories. A third interpretation of the phrase “limits of intention” refers to the possible subjects of intentions. Are these limited to individuals, or can they Bereitgestellt von | De Gruyter / TCSAngemeldet | 46 30 84 116Heruntergeladen am | 23 12 13 05:24  60    Michael Schmitz include groups and even institutional actors such as governments, corporations, and so on? The main claim I want to make plausible in this paper is that these questions can be better answered in the context of a general theory of the representational mind. However, to properly place intentions in such a context, I shall argue, we need to revise our conception of the representationality of intentions and other so-called propositional attitudes. Then we can, for example, explain limits of the behavioral control exerted by intentions through the difference in representa-tional format between intentions and the nonpropositional, nonconceptual, sen-sory-motor representations immediately guiding actions. And we will also be able to clear up some philosophical confusions about groups and institutions and will have a better framework for understanding what they are and how they are able to form and pursue intentions. Before I begin this task, however, it will be useful to sketch a preliminary understanding of what intentions are in the first place and to insert a terminological note. The terminological note is that philosophers generally use the term “inten-tionality” in two quite different senses, which is a perennial source of confusion. In the broad sense “intentionality” means aboutness or representationality, the property of mental states to be about objects or states of affairs or to be directed at them. In the narrow sense “intentionality” just refers to intentions and acting intentionally. Intentionality in the latter sense is a special case of intentionality in the former sense. To avoid confusion, however, I will only use “intentionality” in the narrow sense in this paper and employ “representationality” for the wider sense. 3 Delimiting Intentions A good starting point for our discussion of intention is Elizabeth Anscombe’s (1957: §1) distinction between acting intentionally, acting with an intention, and having an intention. For example, I may open the window intentionally, I may open it with the intention of letting in fresh air, or I may have the intention to open it. We can think of these as three levels of the proximity of intentionality to action. Intentionality can refer to the way that the action is performed, to an intention that accompanies the action and defines a goal that goes beyond the immedi-ate execution of the action, and to an intention one may have before initiating the intended action. Later John Searle (1983: ch. 3) introduced a related two-way Bereitgestellt von | De Gruyter / TCSAngemeldet | 46 30 84 116Heruntergeladen am | 23 12 13 05:24   Limits of Intention and the Representational Mind   61 distinction between “intentions in action” and “prior intentions.”² On a popular  view, sometimes called the “Simple View” (Bratman 1987: ch. 8), all these phe-nomena can be explained in the same way, namely through the presence of an intention. In particular, when we act intentionally, this is to be explained through the presence of an intention. However, it is important to realize that it is not a matter of course that the state that makes my opening of the window intentional is the same kind of state that I have when I decide to open the window. I will in fact soon argue that it is a different kind of state. For now, we are focusing on the state that can occur independently of the execution of an action. This state can be roughly characterized through at least the following properties: 1) Conceptual articulation of content   . An intention has a content, a conceptually articulated representation of a state of affairs, which is the intended goal. (This content is usually called “propositional”, but I reject this notion, at least as usually understood for reasons spelled out below.) 2)  Admissible contents / intended state of affairs  . This state of affairs is an action of its subject or at least the (partial) result of such an action. That is, while some languages, notably English, allow constructions like “I intend for my kids to get a good education”, it is understood in such cases that the subject plans on undertaking actions to bring about the intended state of affairs. 3)  Possibility and control  . A closely related point is that in order for a subject to intend something, it must take it to be possible for her or him to bring about the intended state of affairs. Even more, the subject must have a sense of control over the intended state of affairs. 4) Satisfaction condition  . An intention is satisfied if it is executed and that also means that it causes the completion of the intended action (see below). 5)  Direction of causation and of fit between mind and world  . So for intentions the direction of causation between mind and world is mind-to-world. The direction of fit is world-to-mind: fit is achieved by adapting the world to the representational content of the mind rather than the other way around as in belief.³ 6)  Result of decisions  . Intentions are at least typically the outcomes of reasoning processes, however brief, that terminate in decisions. The subject ends the deliberation process by settling on a course of action and thus enters a new 2  For a more extensive account see sect. 3 of the introduction to this volume.  3  For more on the notion of direction of fit, see the introduction, sect. 3. Bereitgestellt von | De Gruyter / TCSAngemeldet | 46 30 84 116Heruntergeladen am | 23 12 13 05:24
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