Monday, January 17, 2011

More confusion about intentionality

Vallicella has been picking up on some of the issues discussed here over the last week.

His aim to highlight what he thinks is a fundamental confusion in the Ockhamist characterisation of intentionality. It is characteristic of certain mental states (intentional states) to refer beyond themselves to certain items. For example, states of desire refer beyond themselves to items that are not part of the states. In desire something is desired, and so on. Unfortunately (he says) the word 'something' will cause certain people (that's us here) to stumble, leading them wrongly to suppose that “a concrete episode of desire cannot exist unless there also exists, independently of the desire, something that is desired”.

His point seems to be that the inference

(A) Something is desired, therefore there exists something that is desired.

is not valid, but Ockhamists wrongly think it is valid.

This is wrong. (A) certainly is valid. I have argued, particularly here, that when the word ‘something’ occurs in the subject position of a sentence, then Brentano equivalence applies, so that the categorical sentence ‘Some A is B’ is convertible with the existential ‘Some A-that-is-B exists’. Thus there is fundamentally no difference between the following three sentences.

(A1) Something is desired by Tom
(A2) There is something desired by Tom
(A3) There exists something desired by Tom

Thus (A) is valid. If something is desired, then there is something desired. The move from 'something is desired' to 'there is something desired' is a mere grammatical transformation. C.J.F. Williams says that English inherits from Anglo-Saxon the dislike of the verb ‘is’ at the beginning of a sentence, and so we put the word ‘there’ in front. Thus the logical move from ‘Something is desired by Tom’ to ‘is something desired by Tom’ is followed by the grammatical move to ‘There is something desired by Tom’. This in turn is no different from ‘There exists something desired by Tom’.

Brentano equivalence applies when ‘something’ is the subject. It does not apply, as I have argued, when it is the predicate. It is the following inference which is invalid.

(B) Tom desires some F, therefore some F is desired by Tom.

Indeed, the examples given by Vallicella testify to this. He says that ‘Tom wants a sloop, therefore something is a sloop’ is invalid, because Tom may want a sloop even when nothing is a sloop. And the fact that a woman now wants a baby is perfectly consistent with the fact that there are (now) no babies satisfying her want. It is (B), not (A) above, that is the problem.

The question is, why is this a problem?


David Brightly said...

I think you slip too readily between 'an F' and 'some F', and this can lead to more confusion. For me, 'Tom desires some F' means that Tom has some definite F in mind and hence some F is desired by Tom. So strictly speaking the inference in (B) is valid. On the other hand, 'Tom desires an F' does not imply 'An F is desired by Tom'. Compare the two dialogues:

A: Tom wants to buy some car.
B: Really? What make is it?

A: Tom wants to buy a car.
B: Really? Does he have a make in mind?

The problem, presumably, is to explain the semantics of the indefinite 'an F' when embedded in an intentional context. Quantification over objects of kind F doesn't work.

Edward Ockham said...

I'm not sure I see the difference you have in mind. 'Some F' and 'an F' are generally accepted as logical equivalents.

Clark said...

So if I desire to be with my dead wife doesn't it follow from your logic that either what I *really* desire isn't my wife or else my dead wife exists. I suppose theists would be comfortable with that last claim but it seems something is off here.

Clark Goble said...

Whoops, ignore that last comment. I just realize I misread you on a key point. My bad.

David Brightly said...

Re 'some F' versus 'an F'. Interesting. Maybe the languages of Albert Square and the City differ.

Phil wants to run some pub.
Tracey wants to marry some millionaire.
Bernie wants to prove some theorem.

For me, all these carry a strong de re sense. The sense is lessened when the 'some' is emphasised and strengthened when the 'F' is emphasised. In contrast, the 'a/an' forms seem neutral between a de re and a de dicto interpretation and don't respond to change of emphasis. No matter, for current purposes it's enough that some form of words has a de dicto sense.

Edward Ockham said...

>>Phil wants to run some pub.
Tracey wants to marry some millionaire.
Bernie wants to prove some theorem.
>>For me, all these carry a strong de re sense.

OK good point. The distinction between 'de re' and 'de dicto' needs clarifying, but yes.