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The Intentional Stance

A former member
Post #: 989
Hi all.

This is an online book discussion of Daniel Dennett's The Intentional Stance. Consider it an extension of the offline, meat and potatoes Philosophy Book Club. I'll use the acronym "IS" when referencing this book as in "IS pg 334". I'll field any questions or comments as discussed here­ if you wish me to post them anonymously for discussion (send an email to my avatar).

My ulterior motive is to find, or at least try to find, the best way to talk about the mind where best means something like "the model that explains the most stuff" rather than any political or (a)religious stance.

I'll begin by recapping an issue from the original thread and toss Searle into the mix for our Searle readers out there.


Samual Alexander: The higher quality emerges from the lower level of existence and has its roots therein, but it emerges therefrom, and it does not belong to that level, but constitutes its possessor a new order of existent with its special laws of behaviour. The existence of emergent qualities thus described is something to be noted, as some would say, under the compulsion of brute empirical fact, or, as I should prefer to say in less harsh terms, to be accepted with the “natural piety” of the investigator. It admits no explanation.

Ken Roberts: intentionality ... is, rather, a brute empirical reality.

Eric Blommel: Then show me the 'intention' particles. You cannot. It is not brute empirical reality, it is pure metaphor!

Daniel Dennett (IS pg 334): It is just a very obvious empirical fact, Searle insists, that organic brains can produce intentionality. But one wonders how he can have established this empirical fact. Perhaps only some organic brains produce intentionality! Perhaps left-handers brains, for instance, only mimic the control powers of brains that produce genuine intentionality! Asking the lefthanders if they have minds is no help, of course, since their brains may just be Chinese rooms.

­The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation, experience, or experiment.

Samuel Alexander thinks "the existence of emergent qualities" is "brute empirical fact." He also thinks we should be humble and stop trying to explain it (Hallelujah).

Ken thinks "intentionality" is "brute empirical reality".

Eric's request for "intention particles" suggests he restricts the meaning of "empirical" to "observation of something outside of me" but, according to the definition, "empirical" includes information gained by "observation, experience, and experiment." So if Eric looks inside at an experience he is having, he is making an empirical observation. In this sense, intentionality (like experience) is indeed a brute empirical reality; one must introduce Zombies for a counterexample.

I think Daniel Dennett's attempt to zap his friend John Searles with a ray gun suffers the same fate: it relies on the existence of Zombies. If we reject zombies like we reject teapots circling the sun, then we accept that our interior empirical observation of "how it feels to want ice cream" is about the same for everyone. It is an empirical fact.
A former member
Post #: 6

Samuel Alexander thinks "the existence of emergent qualities" is "brute empirical fact." He also thinks we should be humble and stop trying to explain it (Hallelujah).

-- before rejoicing with the Heavenly choirs over this, we should notice that characterizing anything as an emergent quality is already deeply stepping into the arena of explanation. (although trying to do so without actually explaining anything)


Ken thinks "intentionality" is "brute empirical reality".

-- Si senor, though need he say brute? I have difficulty accepting that beasts or animals experience intention... but whenever I meet a human trying to deny their own such experience I feel the same way as I do as in the presence of bad car salesman.


Eric's request for "intention particles" suggests he restricts the meaning of "empirical" to "observation of something outside of me" but, according to the definition, "empirical" includes information gained by "observation, experience, and experiment." So if Eric looks inside at an experience he is having, he is making an empirical observation. In this sense, intentionality (like experience) is indeed a brute empirical reality; one must introduce Zombies for a counterexample.

-- actually it suggests something far more presumptuous than that: that in order for intention to exist it must be material. Aside from this, thank you 1001 times for mentioning that our empirical mental observation (by the way: if this is not consciousness, then what is?) can equally direct itself outward to the world phenomena or inward to our own phenomena, in effect merging subject and object.


I think Daniel Dennett's attempt to zap his friend John Searles with a ray gun suffers the same fate: it relies on the existence of Zombies. If we reject zombies like we reject teapots circling the sun, then we accept that our interior empirical observation of "how it feels to want ice cream" is about the same for everyone. It is an empirical fact.

-- true, but really what Dennett's position here relies upon is a refusal to take responsibility that we ourselves are the agents who are cognizing our perceptions and opinions, and we do so whether or not the focus of our cognition happens to be external or internal at the moment.

In the interests of further discussion I would suggest including starting point links to definitions of things like 'intention(ality)' and 'intentional stance'. (Like you offered for 'empirical') Would invite wider audience this way. I don't like Dennett enough to read his entire IS book (though I would if sufficiently interesting discussion warranted it), and prefer, as I have, to read various professional articles of his (and CE) relating to this, so would prefer some other person with more Dennett-stomach than I expose these terms in his light. Of course you may decide this disqualifies me, which would be perfectly alright with me.


A former member
Post #: 990
Robert, hello!

A good friend and colleague of mine lives up there in Toronto. When I think winter is too cold in Denver, he reminds me what "too cold" means.

I look forward to reading your comments but, for now, wanted to post this good article on Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt:




wink
Jeanette M. N.
wickedatheist
Denver, CO
Post #: 3,147

I look forward to reading your comments but, for now, wanted to post this good article on Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt:

wink

Thank you for that, youDave; I now feel that I understand the subject so much better.
A former member
Post #: 991
Hi Robert,

iDave: Samuel Alexander thinks "the existence of emergent qualities" is "brute empirical fact." He also thinks we should be humble and stop trying to explain it (Hallelujah).

Robert: -- before rejoicing with the Heavenly choirs over this, we should notice that characterizing anything as an emergent quality is already deeply stepping into the arena of explanation. (although trying to do so without actually explaining anything)

Yes, perhaps it depends on what he means by "emergent qualities." I'm comfortable saying things like "when atoms combine to form a molecule, new and novel properties emerge" but I would not consider this "magic." Maybe the notion of "magic" alarms people? In any case, the quote is taken from our own Ken Roberts' fine wikipedia page so we can check back there for a better meaning of "emergentism".

iDave: Ken thinks "intentionality" is "brute empirical reality".

Robert: -- Si senor, though need he say brute? I have difficulty accepting that beasts or animals experience intention... but whenever I meet a human trying to deny their own such experience I feel the same way as I do as in the presence of bad car salesman.

Ha ha. Ken may be emphasizing the strength of an empirical observation, as in "seeing is believing," as opposed to that of someone's personal opinion or bias.

Your comment on "beasts or animals" is probably much discussed by these mentalish philosophers. Do animals have intentionality? Are they "conscious?" Is there a dividing line between "conscious beings" and "mechanical automatons?" Someone probably wrote a book on this. I think Daniel Dennett leans toward a behavioral or functional view: if it acts like it "wants ice cream," then it really "wants ice cream," and there's no deeper fact of the matter, so give it some ice cream.

As for car salesmen, did you see my post on Angelina and Brad? wink In Daniel Dennett's lingo, we might say that if you take me to be an average rational guy (a normal assumption since we had not met), you "predict" that clicking on the picture will reveal a story about Angelina and Brad. This is the intentional stance: we all have basic folk psychology built-in or learned from an early age that let's us imagine what a "rational agent" desires or believes or intends and this lets us accurately predict the immediate future Most of the time, like 95% of the time, and (evolutionary arguments go here) this is why humans did not disappear as Lunch In Africa.

When you click the picture and realize the story is not about Angelina and Brad, you readjust your assumptions about my intentions (the ones I really had rather than the ones you intuitively projected onto me), and conclude I was using the old marketing trick of attracting new readers (to less than glamorous material) with "stories of the rich and famous."

iDave: Eric's request for "intention particles" suggests he restricts the meaning of "empirical" to "observation of something outside of me" but, according to the definition, "empirical" includes information gained by "observation, experience, and experiment." So if Eric looks inside at an experience he is having, he is making an empirical observation. In this sense, intentionality (like experience) is indeed a brute empirical reality; one must introduce Zombies for a counterexample.

Robert: -- actually it suggests something far more presumptuous than that: that in order for intention to exist it must be material. Aside from this, thank you 1001 times for mentioning that our empirical mental observation (by the way: if this is not consciousness, then what is?) can equally direct itself outward to the world phenomena or inward to our own phenomena, in effect merging subject and object.

Yes, your comment reminds me of Angelina and Brad where M.D. Robertson calls this association "intention = brain configuration XYZ" the Identity Theory, a flavor of non-emergent materialism. So much of this is learning new vocabulary, soon no-one will understand us! So if this is what Eric meant, he may not be presumptuous so much as being a member of the Identity Theory school of thought.

I'm gonna hold off on the "what is consciousness" question for now. It's a biggy, maybe more than this "intentionality" business covers.

iDave: I think Daniel Dennett's attempt to zap his friend John Searles with a ray gun suffers the same fate: it relies on the existence of Zombies. If we reject zombies like we reject teapots circling the sun, then we accept that our interior empirical observation of "how it feels to want ice cream" is about the same for everyone. It is an empirical fact.

Robert: -- true, but really what Dennett's position here relies upon is a refusal to take responsibility that we ourselves are the agents who are cognizing our perceptions and opinions, and we do so whether or not the focus of our cognition happens to be external or internal at the moment.

As Ken Roberts emphasized, this is a Huge topic in philosophy with a rich history. I think you are raising questions of "free will" here, and I think the views on just how much "free will" we have may depend on which school of thought you resonate with (as examples in Robertson's paper highlight). For example, I think at one extreme philosophers think we have No free will (even though it Seems like that, aka Folk Psychology) while on the other more intuitive end we do in fact have free will and you give ice cream to your dog After you decide to give ice cream to your dog, and your dog is not secretly controlling your mind.

Robert: In the interests of further discussion I would suggest including starting point links to definitions of things like 'intention(ality)' and 'intentional stance'. (Like you offered for 'empirical') Would invite wider audience this way.

Thank you.

Most of my references are from the amazing Wikipedia website because 1) I'm lazy, and 2) the articles almost always begin with a helpful synopsis targeting a bright high school student (so you don't have to be a wizard to get a general idea of what something is about). Here are links for Intentionality and The Intentional Stance. These pages have additional links for those wishing to really really really get into Intentionality but the synopsis is often enough to get going.

(oh dear, i've exceed my limit, it feels ... unintentional!)
A former member
Post #: 992
(continued)

Robert: I don't like Dennett enough to read his entire IS book (though I would if sufficiently interesting discussion warranted it), and prefer, as I have, to read various professional articles of his (and CE) relating to this, so would prefer some other person with more Dennett-stomach than I expose these terms in his light. Of course you may decide this disqualifies me, which would be perfectly alright with me.

EVERYONE is welcome and I could not disqualify you anyway, the moderators would have to do that, and it would probably be for some etiquette rule like you said "crap" too frequently. We sometimes push each other's buttons here in the drama of rhetoric but don't take it too seriously. I see you run a group up in Montreal so bring them on down for a cold one (but not as cold as Montreal) if they want to chat about mind-stuff.

Regards,
iDave.

A former member
Post #: 993
Wait a minute, Robert is right, the quick (visible) definition is even friendlier, so here is take 2:

[Intentionality] has been defined as "aboutness", and according to the Oxford English Dictionary it is "the distinguishing property of mental phenomena of being necessarily directed upon an object, whether real or imaginary"

In other words, "I want ice cream," and my mental phenomena (wanting) is directed at an object (ice cream).

Another expression I see used frequently is intentional idiom as a general reference to any of these mentalish things (like belief, desire, etc.) that rocks do not seem to possess (although I do recall a Pet Rock being in stores once, not sure if that counts). wink

The intentional stance is a term coined by philosopher Daniel Dennett for the level of abstraction in which we view the behavior of a thing in terms of mental properties. It is part of a theory of mental content proposed by Dennett, which provides the underpinnings of his later works on free will, consciousness, folk psychology, and evolution.

"Here is how it works: first you decide to treat the object whose behavior is to be predicted as a rational agent; then you figure out what beliefs that agent ought to have, given its place in the world and its purpose. Then you figure out what desires it ought to have, on the same considerations, and finally you predict that this rational agent will act to further its goals in the light of its beliefs. A little practical reasoning from the chosen set of beliefs and desires will in most instances yield a decision about what the agent ought to do; that is what you predict the agent will do." (Daniel Dennett, The Intentional Stance, p. 17)


Regards,
iDave.
A former member
Post #: 56
Wait a minute, Robert is right, the quick (visible) definition is even friendlier, so here is take 2:

[Intentionality] has been defined as "aboutness", and according to the Oxford English Dictionary it is "the distinguishing property of mental phenomena of being necessarily directed upon an object, whether real or imaginary"

With apologies to the fine editors of the OED, I suggest we not assume that the concept of intentionality has already been fully excavated -- and, if so, the definitions currently on offer are but suggestive starting points. The phenomenon is so peculiarly entwined with consciousness that it is difficult to isolate in its own right, though we are able to go some way toward that courtesy of various, ingeniously constructed, ambiguous perceptual figures, such as the one developed by Edgar Rubin in 1915, which is often referred to as the "face/vase optical illusion." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubin_vase­

There is, of course, nothing, illusory going on -- Rubin's figure is, rather, intended to bring out the intentional nature of perception, for which the raw material of perception -- call this "qualia" if you like -- provides only a starting point. (We can observe our own struggle to construe the figure as we shift back and forth between rival interpretations -- hence, my reference to the empirical reality of the phenomenon.)

Similarly, the way in which intentionality also permeates conciousness in the context of decision making and conduct (I never use the term "behavior" because human beings only exhibit "behavior" when they are either unconscious, asleep, or dead) is brilliantly explored by the too-little appreciated philosopher Alfred Schutz in his "Reflections on the Problem of Relevance." (I would say behavior reflects no free will whatsoever, while conduct reflects varying degrees of free will ranging from little to much -- though never in an "absolute" form.)

Husserl worked on yet another aspect of intentionality in his little-known "Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness" -- and I suspect something similar could be tried in a phenomenology of "space consciousness."

While Searle is at least pointed in the right direction, Dennet's clumsy, unperceptive, and above all else, ontologically-constrained take on the "intentional stance" was anticipated and worked out far more intelligently by Schutz, whose position is also powerfully suggestive of where future research might take us concerning this fascinating subject -- in a way that Dennet's constipated conceptual cowflops are not.

As I commented earlier, Dennett hasn't really progressed an inch, but has succeeded in muddying the waters, and really isn't worth burning up discretionary time with.

--K.
A former member
Post #: 994
Hi Ken, glad you can join us.

Ken Roberts: With apologies to the fine editors of the OED, I suggest we not assume that the concept of intentionality has already been fully excavated -- and, if so, the definitions currently on offer are but suggestive starting points.

Indeed, intentionality seems quite baffling. Just trying a quick google search on "what is intentionality?" yields a mind-boggling array of answers:

Still, there seems to be a common thread here, however subtle, so for the purpose of this discussion, I will use Daniel Dennett's definition of intentionality. Fortunately for us, it is essentially the same definition used by google, Brentano, Husserl, Fodor, Searle, and most philosophers.

There are various "flavors" of intentionality philosophers evidently argue about:

Daniel Dennett (IS pg 288): "That sort of case is irrelevant," Fodor retorted instantly, "because after all, John Searle is right about one thing; he's right about artifacts [i.e., vending machines that "sense" if a quarter was inserted, computers that "know" how to perform arithmetic, etc.] like that. They don't have any intrinsic or original intentionality."

The doctrine of original intentionality is the claim that whereas some of our artifacts may have intentionality derived from us, we have original (or intrinsic) intentionality... As Searle has noted, "Dennett ... believes that nothing literally has any intrinsic intentional mental states

So, for example, Robert predicted (like any normal reader would) that clicking the AngieBrad picture would reveal an AngieBrad article. This is derived intentionality. Robert assumed (like any normal reader would) that my intention was to share an AngieBrad article.

Robert quickly discovered my actual intention was something else. I said my actual intention was to lure readers to a technical paper via an AngieBrad picture. Does my stated actual intention represent original or intrinsic intentionality or is it too derived (certainly in retrospect) from what happened when the photo was clicked?

Daniel Dennett holds that even my "actual" intention is derived, he discards the idea of original intentionality from his ontology of "all the things there are." Daniel Dennett surely wins the Occam's Razor award in this contest of competing theories, or ways to talk about the mind.

Ken Roberts: The phenomenon [of intentionality?] is so peculiarly entwined with consciousness that it is difficult to isolate in its own right, though we are able to go some way toward that courtesy of various, ingeniously constructed, ambiguous perceptual figures, such as the one developed by Edgar Rubin in 1915...

You seem to be conflating concept and phenomenon, Spry:

It is good you mention illusions. It highlights the notion of shortcuts taken by us (as Robert quickly predicted an AngieBrad article) and by nature (in terms of evolutionary "design"):

Daniel Dennett (IS pg 50): (We are not immune to illusions -- which we would be if our perceptual systems were perfect.) To offset the design shortcuts we should also expect design bonuses: circumstances in which the 'cheap' way for nature to design a cognitive system has the side benefit of giving good, reliable results even outside the environment in which the system evolved. Our eyes are well adapted for giving us true beliefs on Mars as well as on Earth, because the cheap solution for our Earth-evolving eyes happens to be a more general solution.

I propose that we can continue the mode of thinking just illustrated all the way in -- not just for eye design, but for deliberation design and belief design and strategy-concocter design. In using this optimistic set of assumptions (nature has built us do do things right; look for systems to believe the truth and love the good), we impute no occult powers to epistemic needs, perceptual capacities, and biography but only the powers common sense already imputes to evolution and learning.

In short, we treat each other as if we were rational agents, and this myth -- for surely we are not all that rational -- works very well because we are pretty rational.

Regards,
iDave.
A former member
Post #: 995
Breakfast with Jargon

Here is an additional tidbit on the boiling cauldron of intentionality.

Daniel Dennett (IS pg 240): Intentionality, in philosophical jargon, is -- in a word -- aboutness. Some of the things, states, and events in the world have the interesting property of being about other things, states, and events; figuratively, they point to other things.

... we can mark the presence of intentionality -- aboutness -- as the topic of our discussions by marking the presence of a peculiar logical feature of all such discussion. Sentences attributing intentional states or events to systems use idioms that exhibit referential opacity: they introduce clauses in which the normal, permissive, substitution rule does not hold.

For example, the AngieBrad photo contained a link to an article. Call this the "AngieBrad link". The article was actually about Dualism vs. Materialism so we could also call this the "Dualism vs. Materialism link," same thing. So if this sentence is true,

(1) Robert clicked the AngieBrad link.

then we can substitute "Dualism vs. Materialism link" in place of "AngieBrad link",

(2) Robert clicked the Dualism vs. Materialism link.

and the sentence must still be true. This permissive substitution rule doesn't work with sentences containing intentional idioms.

Daniel Dennett (IS pg 241): A sentence with an intentional idiom in it, however, contains a clause in which such substitution can turn truth into falsehood and vice versa. (This phenomenon is called referential opacity because the terms in such clauses are shielded or insulated by a barrier to logical analysis, which normally "sees through" the terms to the world the terms are about.)

So we can choose an intentional idiom, like "believes," and write a true sentence,

(3) Robert believes the article is a story about AngieBrad.

and even though "the article" is in fact about "Dualism vs. Materialism," this substitution makes the sentence false,

(4) Robert believes Dualism vs. Materialism is a story about AngieBrad.

And that's one way to identify, or mark the presence of, intentionality.

Regards,
iDave.
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