Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Thinking about something

The intentionality thread at Vallicella’s has died down a bit. Except for his note here, where he wonders whether to think is always to think of something. Are we thinking of anything when we think, e.g., that that Tom is tired? Yes, he says. If we are thinking that Tom is tired, then we are thinking about Tom, for we cannot think this without thinking of him. And “If I am thinking that nothing is in the drawer, or nobody is at home, then I am thinking about the drawer and the home, respectively.”

Is that right? If I think that nothing is a unicorn, am I thinking about unicorns? More later: I particularly want to follow up the idea I broached here that we can parse ‘Tom has a thought about a unicorn’ in two ways, as follows.

Tom / has / a thought about a unicorn
Tom /has a thought about/ a unicorn

Both are of subject – verb – accusative form, and the subject is 'Tom' in both, but the verbs and accusatives are different. The first verb is ‘has’, and the accusative is ‘a thought about a unicorn’. This seems no exception to our rule that ‘has’ is always non-intentional. Thus the sentence is inconsistent with there being no thoughts about unicorns. The second verb is ‘has a thought about’ and the accusative is ‘a unicorn’. ‘Has a thought about’ is clearly intentional, for the sentence is consistent with there being no unicorns. This suggests we can analyse some (perhaps all) mental states that appear to involve a direct relation between a person and a ‘weird object’ into a relation between a person and a propositional state whose description involves a ‘weird term’. This could make the problem of intentionality tractable. Perhaps. More later.

Blog traffic has soared after the post by William Connolley here. Welcome scientists! What does intentionality have to do with science? Well, quite a lot. Intentionalists like Vallicella believe that when we think, there must be something we think about: an ‘intentional object’. These objects have a weird ontological status that seems difficult to reconcile with materialist theories of mind. (A materialist theory of mind reduces all thoughts, feelings, emotions and all ‘mental states’ in general to physical brain states).

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9 Comments:

Blogger David Brightly said...

It's taken me six weeks but at last I see why, in the post that kicked the discussion off both here and at BV's, you characterised intentionality as the claim that 'the existence of some thoughts depends on the existence of external objects'.

Bill was surprised by that formulation, as was I, and I suspect many others. When he says that when we think, there must be something we think about he isn't claiming there is some object, real or weird, that the thought depends on. He isn't saying there are three things involved here: the thinker, the thought, and the object. Rather he's saying that no thought can be without content---a thought must be an X-thought or a Y-thought, not a -thought. Quite what the X and Y range over remains to be elucidated, but it would seem that the range of thoughts is rather greater than the range of real objects (in the Cantorian sense). That, at any rate, is how I've come to think of my own thinking. Talk of 'intentional objects' and worse, 'dispositional objects', I find misleading at best.

1:46 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Bill was surprised by that formulation, as was I, and I suspect many others.

Bill’s formulation (and the ‘many others’ I suspect) is that every thought must have an object. He does not use the word ‘exists’. However, I claim that the verb ‘has’ is non-intentional in the context of that statement, thus we can analyse ‘every thought has an object’ as

(x) if x is a thought then E y has(x, y)

Since I regard the use of ‘exists’ as convertible with the use of the existential quantifier, that is why I used ‘exist’.

>>He isn't saying there are three things involved here: the thinker, the thought, and the object.

Part of the difficulty with this whole thread is understanding what the Intentionalist position actually is. It is now clear that Bill doesn’t regard my analysis of ‘every thought has an object’ as correct. Peter Lupu, on the other hand, clearly has a different view. So we need clarification.

I agree with your point about the confusing use of 'object'.

8:39 am  
Blogger David Brightly said...

Returning to this topic, and regarding the non-intentionality of 'has', what about cases where the nouns one side or other of 'has' are abstract:

Bodies have mass.
Plays have acts.
Composites have parts.
Virtue has its reward.
Vectors have directions.
Development has stages.
Games have rules.
Causes have effects.

The kinds of thing on the right are not in the default range of existential quantification, yet in certain contexts we do appear to quantify over them. Every rule must be obeyed, nothing but sea in every direction, and so on. Similarly with nouns for events and processes:

Jupiter's atmosphere has eddies.
Tom has a day off.
Drugs have side-effects.
Actions have consequences.
I have a headache.

Further, BV is now attributing thinghood to the likes of smiles, frowns, and carpet bulges. We might say that 'Alice has a nice smile' but we don't normally quantify over smiles. The case you have made for Ockhamism is supposedly a clear-cut matter of logic over a well-defined and universally accepted domain of things. But it now looks as if the domain of things is not so obvious. Where do we go from here?


>> Part of the difficulty with this whole thread.
Yes. Re-reading Bill's 'Thinking and Thinking of' suggests that he does regard all thought as thought of some object, yet other remarks (the 'incomplete object' stuff) suggest otherwise. So I'm confused on this too.

11:47 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>The kinds of thing on the right are not in the default range of existential quantification, yet in certain contexts we do appear to quantify over them.

There are other problems with quantification that I haven’t discussed yet (but was going to). For example, it could be argued that

Jane wants a cigarette, so there is something that Jane wants

is valid, not because there is any particular, individual cigarette that she wants, or has in mind, but because there is a certain kind of thing she wants. I.e. we do quantify over kinds of individuals, as well as individuals themselves. Or consider

There are two things this house lacks, namely a bathroom and an open fire.

Clearly the speaker isn’t referring to two individual non-existing things. Rather, they are talking about two kinds of things. Possibly. I’m not sure how to explain that sentence. I am sure, though, that a Realist explanation won’t cut it. It’s not that there are two distinct Weird Entities that this house lacks.

12:42 pm  
Blogger David Brightly said...

Yes, There is a certain kind of which Jane wants an instance. Or, There is a certain kind an instance of which this house lacks.

Is this actually expressible in second order logic?
We can draw up a specification for the desired/lacking entity but as soon as we introduce a name or variable to refer to an instance of such a kind we appear to be presupposing its existence. So perhaps empty reference is inescapable. Doesn't this occur in standard first order non-existence proofs by reductio ad absurdam? They always start with let x denote the thing we know doesn't exist! But we don't seem to worry about this. It's a little like a fiction. We tell a story about an imaginary world (one in which there's a rational square root of two, say) and show that contradictory conclusions about said world follow. Hence world cannot be.

>> It’s not that there are two distinct Weird Entities that this house lacks. Certainly.

1:32 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

I think there are clear problems here, and I don't have any answer to any of them :(

3:23 pm  
Blogger David Brightly said...

Fair enough! Nice thing about philosophy is that one is never far from the cutting edge.

Regarding the 'There are two things this house lacks, namely a bathroom and an open fire' example, we can render this simply as 'For all x, x in house implies x not a bathroom and x not an open fire'. But perhaps this doesn't address the spirit of the original. Maybe the sense in which the house lacks something is by comparison with an imagined house which does have a bathroom and open fire. Likewise 'Jane wants a cigarette' is not so much a report of some physiological state of need, more a summary of an imagined smoking of a cigarette and an imagined concomitant pleasure, etc. Looking at Tim Crane's categories of intensional transitive verbs in his 'SAINSBURY ON THINKING ABOUT AN OBJECT' paper, I'm struck by how many of these involve the imagination in whole or part:

1. Verbs of depiction or representation: imagine, portray, visualize, write (about), belief (in).
2. Verbs of anticipation: anticipate, expect, fear, foresee, plan.
3. Verbs of desire: prefer, want, hope (for).
4. Verbs of evaluation: fear, worship, scorn, respect.
5. Verbs of requirement: need, require, deserve.

Likewise, Pegasus, Vulcan, Frodo Baggins, are all 'objects of the imagination'. Crane hazards that to think about x is to be in some conscious state of mind that represents x. To represent x is to represent (some of) the properties of x. Sainsbury himself comes close to this in RWR with his talk of 'individual concepts'. Peter Lupu talks about 'surrogate objects' and BV talks about 'incomplete objects'. It seems to me that there is a convergence of ideas here that's obscured in some cases by attachments to preconceived isms. Any thoughts?

2:46 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>we can render this simply as 'For all x, x in house implies x not a bathroom and x not an open fire

Actually the 'namely rider' was just to explain the statement and should be left out. I can just say 'this house lacks two things', and stop there, having made it clear I could add a namely rider of that sort. You understand what I mean, but how to express it?

5:27 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>It seems to me that there is a convergence of ideas here that's obscured in some cases by attachments to preconceived isms. Any thoughts?

Only that in the case of thoughts and desires and perhaps some others, we can give a 'propositionalist' account. We can translate

S wants/thinks about an F

as

S has a want for / has a thought about an F

and then give general characteristics of thoughts, desires about Fs. This would have to involve predicate variables. E.g. a though about a unicorn has to be of the form

some/all unicorns are/ are not G

or something like that.

5:31 pm  

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