Oderberg, D.S. (2017). Finality revived: powers and intentionality. Synthese, 194, 2387–2425. doi:10.1007/s11229-016-1057-5
[Abstract]Proponents of physical intentionality argue that the classic hallmarks of intentionality highlighted by Brentano are also found in purely physical powers. Critics worry that this idea is metaphysically obscure at best, and at worst leads to panpsychism or animism. I examine the debate in detail, finding both confusion and illumination in the physical intentionalist thesis. Analysing a number of the canonical features of intentionality, I show that they all point to one overarching phenomenon of which both the mental and the physical are kinds, namely finality. This is the finality of ‘final causes’, the long-discarded idea of universal action for an end to which recent proponents of physical intentionality are in fact pointing whether or not they realise it. I explain finality in terms of the concept of specific indifference, arguing that in the case of the mental, specific indifference is realised by the process of abstraction, which has no correlate in the case of physical powers. This analysis, I conclude, reveals both the strength and weakness of rational creatures such as us, as well as demystifying (albeit only partly) the way in which powers work.
[Citing Place (1996g)]  [Citing Place (1999b)]  
Citing Place (1996g) in context (citations start with an asterisk *):
Section 1 Introduction
* That non-mental powers are thought to share at least some, i[f] not all, of the features of intentionality — what Franz Brentano took to be the ‘mark of the mental’ — is the striking view of a number of power theorists. Fn 3: Molnar (2003); Place (1996); Martin and Pfeifer (1986). They differ among themselves as to what conclusion is to be drawn from their observations. For Martin and Pfeifer, a distinction is still to be made between intentionality and powers, but it cannot be found in any one or combination of the classic features of intentionality championed since Brentano — by, for example, Searle and Chisholm. They suggest instead that the source of intentionality be located in perceptual experience — albeit they do not seem to consider the intentionality of experience itself as requiring explanation. According to Place, some of the classic features of intentionality are reducible to others and do carry over to powers, but intensionality with an ‘s’ — referential opacity (Quine), indirect reference (Frege) — does not. This does not mean, he adds, that we have found the ‘long searched for essence’ distinguishing either mental from physical language or mental states from physical states, since intensionality is a feature of quotational contexts — ‘what someone has said or might be expected to say’. Fn 5: Place (1996, pp. 112–113). Again, though, Place ignores the evident connection between quotation and mentality: only of a certain kind of creature, capable of thinking about objects in a certain way, can it be affirmed that they said or might be expected to say something. Molnar is forthright that there is such a thing as ‘physical intentionality’ sharing all the classic features of (mental) intentionality identified by Brentano, so he refines the picture by grounding the intentionality characteristic of rational minds in both consciousness and representation, whereas the intentionality of powers is non-conscious and non-representational.
Section 3 Specific indifference
* Fn 33: There is no space to discuss at length the question of whether all mental intentionality involves representation. It might be thought that sensation is intentional but in no way representational. Molnar thinks that bodily sensation is a kind of non-representational intentionality (2003, pp. 74–81), thus lending support in his view to the idea of physical intentionality. It is hard to see what Molnar’s argument establishes. Bodily sensation shows none of the classic Brentanian marks of mental intentionality apart from directedness which is, as I argue, no more than an aspect of finality as specific indifference. The sensation of cold, for example, is restricted to a specific range of objects (where the object is just whatever is sensed), and there is indifference within the range as to the circumstances in which that kind of sensation occurs. But that is about it, meaning that bodily sensation looks just to be a kind of physical finality (the finality of a conscious, embodied creature) rather than a phenomenon ‘supporting’ (Molnar 2003, p. 74) the possibility of physical intentionality. If there is any genuine mental intentionality in bodily sensation, it is exemplified by the way that a rational thinker conceptualises or represents what she feels, which thoughts are different from the sensations themselves. The sensations themselves are had by non-rational animals, and they cannot conceptualise or represent their sensations, let alone perform any abstraction on them. When animals sense, it is more like what Place calls ‘inspection’ (1996, p. 107): for an animal, feeling pain is like watching prey. The pure sensation, whether in the human or the animal, is merely an instance of generic finality.
Section 4 Inexistence: failures of exportation and truth
* When Brentano spoke of ‘intentional inexistence’ [intentionale Inexistenz], he meant the ‘esse intentionale’, the ‘intentional existence’ or ‘intentional being’ of the scholastic philosophers. Since one of the oft-cited features of intentionality is that intentional objects need not exist (a child’s thoughts about the Tooth Fairy, my wondering about the future prime minister), ‘inexistence’ has come in many quarters to be equated with ‘non-existence’, inasmuch as commentators have taken intentional inexistence simply to be that feature of intentionality whereby intentional objects need not have real existence Fn 54: Place (1996, pp. 92, 100) is guilty of this conflation. (what the scholastics sometimes called ‘esse reale’ or ‘esse naturale’). The move is natural but a misunderstanding nevertheless. The ‘inexistence’ of Brentano and the scholastics pertains more to directedness than to possible non-existence. Possible non-existence is, however, a consequence of inexistence: it is more helpfully considered in terms of the failure of quantifier exportation and/or permissible falsity of a proposition embedded within an intentional context. Just as my desire for world peace does not entail that there is or ever will be world peace, so my wondering whether it will rain tomorrow does not entail that it will rain tomorrow. Having clarified this, for simple convenience’s sake I will now use the term ‘inexistence’ as a shorthand for failure of exportation and/or permissible falsity.
A little consideration demonstrates that for all the apparent centrality of inexistence to intentionality, it is by no means essential to it and so fails to be a ‘mark of the mental’; philosophers have arguably wasted a lot of time discussing it in this context, and may even have seriously distorted the whole debate. For a start, propositions embedded in the modal context ‘It is possible that…’ are also permissibly false, and if they are existentially quantified then exportation fails. Even if (itself questionable) ‘It is possible that …’ creates a context that is intensional with an ‘s’, it is not an intentional context whether mental or physical. The same goes for ‘It is probable that …’, at least if probability is interpreted objectively (that is, as having nothing to do with belief). Failure of exportation/existential generalisation and permissible falsity can be found where there is no intentionality of any sort, and conversely neither of them apply in certain contexts that are clearly intentional, namely those created by factives. Fn 58: Or, more narrowly, ‘verbs of cognitive achievement’, as Place puts it (1996, p. 107). (1) Exportation/existential generalisation is clearly valid in the case of factives where the complement is a direct object, such as ‘S knows x’ (knowledge by acquaintance), ‘S sees x’, ‘S hears x’, ‘S is aware of x’, ‘S realises x’. (2) Permissible falsity fails, and so truth is entailed, in the case of factives with a propositional complement, such as ‘S knows that p’, ‘S realises that p’, ‘S regrets that p’. I for one see no room for debate about at least some sensory verbs, properly understood in their context; even if we had to disambiguate ‘see’, for instance, so as to separate factive from non-factive cases, the former would be sufficient to make the point. But even if no sensory verbs were either factive or had a factive interpretation, it is beyond question that ‘know’ is both factive and creates an intentional context, and only one case is needed. I will leave it as intuitively clear for now that ‘know’ is intentional, adding merely that intensionality with an ‘s’ has something to do with it Fn 60: Both Chisholm (1957, p. 171) and Place (1996, p. 107) recognise this, but as we shall see the story goes deeper than mere intensionality. — but this is only the surface of the story, as we shall see.
Not only does inexistence fail as a ‘mark of the mental’, but it also fails as a ‘mark of the dispositional’, to use Place’s phrase: in other words, there is no general phenomenon of failure of exportation/existential generalisation or permissible falsity in respect of powers. Martin and Pfeifer, endorsed by Place, make much of the fact that many power ascriptions do not entail the truth of the manifestation condition embedded within the relevant context or implied by the ascription, nor the existence of one or more of the objects that are essential to the fulfilment of the condition. (1) ‘This vase is fragile’ does not entail ‘This glass will break’ (i.e., that it will break at any time, let alone any particular time, in its actual career). (2) ‘This glass is capable of being smashed only by a one kilogram rock’ does not entail ‘There exists a one kilogram rock’. (3) ‘Protons attract electrons’ does not entail ‘There are electrons’. (4) ‘Acid can turn this litmus paper red’ does not entail ‘This litmus paper will turn red’.
Section 5 Intensionality with an ‘s’
* ... So the very suggestion that there should be physical intentionality in powers as a straight metaphysical carry-over from mental intentionality understood as the manifestation of intentional powers looks doomed from the start.
Yet for all that this may be a problem, we can still affirm that mental intentionality, whether factive or not, in its actual state — the very exercise of the intentional powers — does display finality understood as specific indifference, and this is where we begin to find the key to what really distinguishes the mental from the physical (at least where the mental is understood as rational mentality, as it is here). The way through to an answer goes via intensionality with an ‘s’. Now both Bird and Place Fn71: Place (1996, pp. 108–112). argue, contra both Molnar and Martin and Pfeifer, that parallels to the intensionality with an ‘s’ that we find in contexts of mental intentionality cannot also be found in physical powers. We are familiar with such truisms as that from
(1) Andrew believes that George Eliot wrote Middlemarch
(2) George Eliot is Mary Ann Evans
it does not follow that (3) Andrew believes that Mary Ann Evans wrote Middlemarch
unless he also believes that Mary Ann Evans is George Eliot. It would be nigh incredible that anything similar could be found in the case of powers. Molnar’s example is:
(4) Acid has the power to turn this piece of litmus paper red
(5) Red is the colour of post boxes
(6) Acid has the power to turn this piece of litmus paper the colour of post boxes.
Molnar claims that (6) does not follow from (4) and (5). It is evident, though, that if ‘the colour of post boxes’ is interpreted rigidly as ‘the actual colour of post boxes’ then acid certainly has the power to turn litmus paper that colour. We only hear (6) as not following from (4) and (5) if ‘the colour of post boxes’ is interpreted as ‘the colour of post boxes, whatever that colour happens to be’. As Bird succinctly puts it, acid has no power that tracks the colour of post boxes. So the parallel with the belief example fails: intensionality with an ‘s’ still applies in the latter case despite the rigidity of the relevant referring terms.
Of more interest, perhaps, is Martin and Pfeifer’s attempt to prove physical intensionality with an ‘s’: (7) Acid A was able to turn litmus paper P into the only pink object O at location L
(8) The only pink object O at location L is the only object M of mass f at L
do not entail
(9) Acid A was able to turn litmus paper P into the only object M of mass f at location L.
Place has a rather convoluted response to this gnarly example, arguing in the alternative as follows. Fn 76: Place (1996, pp. 108–112). (i) Even if this example demonstrates physical intensionality with an ‘s’, all the terms in the complement are singular, whereas intensionality with an ‘s’ in mental contexts applies also to general terms but this has no physical analogue. (ii) Even if intensionality with an ‘s’ only applies to co-referring singular terms this example does not demonstrate physical intensionality with an ‘s’ because the putative power of acid A is no power at all, due to its being wholly limited to a particular object, and a particular event, at a particular place, whereas genuine powers are ‘open-ended’.
Place’s objections are easy to dispose of. Taking (ii) first, it is easy to insert a range of manifestation conditions along some dimension, thus endowing the alleged power of acid A with some ‘open-endedness’ and thus qualifying it as genuine, for instance:
(7*) Acid A was able to turn litmus paper P into the only pink object O at location L at any time ti between times t1. . .tn
(8*) The only pink object O at location L at any time ti between times t1. . .tn is the only object M of mass f at L at any time ti between times t1. . .tn
which still do not entail
(9*) Acid A was able to turn litmus paper P into the only object M of mass f at location L at any time ti between times t1. . .tn.
In other words, it does not appear essential to Martin and Pfeifer’s example that it be wholly particularised in the way they make it. Returning now to Place’s objection (i), consider that:
(10) Poison P was able to turn red squirrels into sick red squirrels
(11) Sick red squirrels are native British squirrels
do not entail
(12) Poison P was able to turn red squirrels into native British squirrels.
Here only general terms are used in the complement of the power context, yet although they co-refer, substitution fails to preserve truth. Further, ‘sick red squirrels’ is being used rigidly, as in ‘the actual sick red squirrels’, namely the ones that, in the imagined case, are the familiar British ones. Similarly, ‘native British squirrels’ is being used rigidly to refer to the familiar British ones, not to native British squirrels whatever kind that may happen to be in an arbitrary possible world (such as one in which the grey squirrels are native).Moreover, Place’s objection has nothing to do with general terms referring to essential kinds rather than accidental kinds: any general term will do, and ‘sick red squirrel’ is a perfectly kosher general term. In any case, we can stipulate further so that the general terms all refer to essential kinds (rather, the one essential kind): suppose P turned every red squirrel sick without exception; suppose the sickness to be a minor genetic mutation expressed as a relatively insignificant but permanent functional disability; and suppose the mutation to be part of the heritable genome; then we can be sure (11) is true, in other words that there is genuine co-reference to one and only one kind, and an essential kind at that. Yet we still rightly deny that P turned sick squirrels into native British squirrels.
Does this mean Martin and Pfeifer are vindicated — that not only have they provided a legitimate example of physical intensionality with an ‘s’ involving singular terms, but that a parallel one can be constructed using general terms, contra Place? Not at all, because the failure of the inference to go through in both (7)–(9) and (10)–(12) has nothing to do with intensionality with an ‘s’ and everything to do with John Buridan’s ‘raw meat’ sophism:
(13) Yesterday you bought raw meat
(14) What you bought is what you ate
(15) You ate raw meat.
Now (15) evidently does not follow from (13) and (14); the question is why. There is, perhaps surprisingly, a fair bit of debate about precisely what the fallacy is, with general agreement that it is either, or closely related to, the fallacy of secundum quid, which is itself the same as, or closely related to, the fallacy of accident. For our purposes, it is enough to observe that the raw meat fallacy derives from a failure to take into account the fact that the meat was cooked before it was eaten: you ate meat, to be sure, but one of its characteristics had changed between the time you bought it and the time you ate it. This is sufficient to enable diagnosis of why both Martin and Pfeifer’s putative case of physical intensionality with an ‘s’ (7–9, the acid and the litmus paper) and my parallel case using general terms (10–12, the red squirrels) are fallacious. In the acid example, the fallacy derives from a failure to take into account the fact that the litmus paper was the only object M of mass f at L before the acid acted on it. In the squirrel example, the fallacy derives from the failure to take into account the fact that the red squirrels were native British squirrels before the poison acted on them. In the raw meat sophism, there is a failure to take into account something that has changed; in the acid and squirrel fallacies, the failure is to take into account something that has stayed the same. Here we have a unified diagnosis (albeit informal) of all three fallacies, with no need to invoke, and no obvious role for, putative physical intensionality with an ‘s’ in the latter two. (And we certainly should not think that Buridan’s sophism proves ‘ate’ to be intensional!)
* Intensionality with an ‘s’ clearly features in most typical cases of mental intentionality, factives included. And it would be wrong to dismiss its relevance for understanding the mental as opposed to the physical, as Searle does. Place is right to insist that intensionality with an ‘s’ is not the essence distinguishing the mental from the physical, but again overly dismissive in suggesting that it ‘arises only in the case of a quotation of what someone has said or would be expected to say, where to make such a substitution is liable to misrepresent what has been or would be said.’ Fn 81: Place (1996, p. 119). Even if Place is right about the essential link between intensionality with an ‘s’ and quotation (a question we need not resolve here), to think that there is no essential link between quotation and the mental is bizarre. We cannot begin to understand why quotational contexts are intensional with an ‘s’ without a grasp of the way in which what a person says or might say represents or expresses what they believe, wonder about, suppose, desire, and the like.
Section 6 Abstraction
* It was always problematic to think of powers as having intentionality because the mental states to which the same intentionality is attributed are not themselves powers, even though they presuppose and depend on a range of mental powers. This is not to deny that some mental states are best thought of as dispositional rather than occurrent (in the classical terminology, potentialities rather than actualities). Perhaps every kind of mental state has both dispositional and occurrent instances; knowledge might be one example. Yet it will not do for the physical intentionalist to retrench by limiting their thesis to dispositional mental states only, so as to preserve the analogy with the purely physical. After all, the claim under consideration is that intentionality is not the hallmark of the mental but is common to the physical; to restrict the mental states under consideration to the dispositional only seems arbitrary and lacking in independent motivation. Physical intentionalists muddy the waters by a liberal use of dispositional language in the analysis of intentionality, perhaps because it makes their case intuitively more appealing: if mental intentionality is itself a feature of mental dispositions, why should we be surprised to find physical intentionality in physical dispositions? Place goes as far as to claim that ‘[a]ll mental states, it turns out, are dispositional in nature.’ Fn 84: Place (1996, p. 116). It is not Place’s lack of argument for this sweeping claim that is the problem, but that it is patently false. Fred’s thought about birds — the thought he has right here, right now, as he watches them through his binoculars — is manifestly not dispositional in as much as it is not a power. It is an actuality, something in which Fred is actually engaged. It might be dispositional in the sense that Fred could not have the thought without being disposed to respond in various ways to linguistic or environmental stimuli. Actual mental states all entail the existence of correlative powers, if the general thesis I argued for earlier is correct. At its most basic, no one thinks without having the power to think. But the actual thought is not the power, it is a manifestation of the power, an exercise of it; and this manifestation is an actuality.
Citing Place (1999b) in context (citations start with an asterisk *):
Section 2 Directedness
* U.T. Place is right to insist that directedness ‘in some sense’ is a feature of powers and that any theory must account for it. Fn 17: Place (1999, p. 227). Molnar too is correct that panpsychism only threatens if the sceptic begs the question against the physical intentionality thesis by assuming Brentano to be right in holding both that intentionality entails directedness and that directedness entails mentality. It is the second conjunct that the physical intentionalist denies. Still, this leaves the physical intentionalist with the undischarged obligation of saying something non-metaphorical about directedness. For if striving, aiming, planning, and so forth are not essential to directedness, and nothing else can replace them, surely the physical intentionalist is saddling power theory with a term that is pregnant with suggestiveness but devoid of content?