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The Structure Of Intentionality

Four concepts are essential for understanding the structure and functioning of intentionality (Searle, 1983). First, the distinction between intentional content and psychological mode; second, the notion of direction of fit; third, the notions of conditions of satisfaction; and fourth, the holistic network of intentionality.

The distinction between intentional content and psychological mode.

Every intentional state consists of an intentional content in a certain psychological mode. You can see this clearly by keeping intentional content constant while varying the mode. Thus, I can believe that you will leave the room, wish that you will leave the room, and wonder whether you will leave the room. In each case the state consists of a propositional content, which we will represent by the variable p, in a certain psychological mode, which we will represent with an M. The structure, then, of these intentional states is M(p). Because the contents of these intentional states are entire propositions, they are sometimes called, following Bertrand Russell, "propositional attitudes." Not all intentional states have an entire proposition as their content, as one might simply admire George Washington, or love Sally Smith. Here the intentionality is directed at an object, but it does not have a whole propositional content. Its form is not M(p) but M(n).

Direction of fit.

The propositional content of the intentional state will relate to reality in different ways depending on the mode in which that content is presented. Thus beliefs, like statements, are supposed to be true, and they are true in virtue of the fact that they accurately represent some state of affairs in the world. They have what we can call the mind-to-world direction of fit, or responsibility of fitting. Desires and intentions, on the other hand, are not designed to represent how things are in fact but how we would like them to be or how we intend to make them be. Such intentional states have the world-to-mind direction of fit or the world-to-mind responsibility for fitting. Some intentional states take the preexisting fit for granted. Thus, for example, if I am sorry that I offended you or I am glad for your good fortune, in each case I take for granted the truth of the proposition that I offended you or that you have had good fortune, and I have an attitude about the state of affairs represented.

Conditions of satisfaction.

Where the intentional state does have a direction of fit, such as belief, desire, perception, or intention, we can say that the intentional state is a representation of its conditions of satisfaction. Just as the belief will be satisfied if and only if it is true, so the desire will be satisfied if and only if it is fulfilled, and the intention will be satisfied if and only if it is carried out.

The network of intentionality.

Intentional states do not come to us in isolated atoms but as part of a holistic network of intentionality. This is perhaps most obvious in the case of the emotions. In order, for example, that someone be angry at another person, he or she must have a set of beliefs and desires. He or she will typically believe the other person has done some harm, will desire that the harm had not been done, will desire to harm, or express disapproval of the person at whom he or she is angry, and so on. Intentional states do not come to us individually and do not function in an atomistic form, but rather one has one intentional state only in relation to other intentional states. This holistic network is essential even for the functioning of simple beliefs.

So, for example, one can believe that in 2004 George W. Bush was president of the United States only if one has a rather large number of other beliefs. One must believe at least a certain number of things such as that the United States is a republic, that it elects presidents, that its president serves for a certain number of years, that presidents have certain powers and responsibilities, and so on. One way to describe this feature is to say that any intentional state functions, it determines its conditions of satisfaction, only in relation to a network of other intentional states. Most philosophers today accept some form of holism as opposed to atomism. A controversial extension of holism is the view that the whole network functions only against a background of taken-for-granted abilities and presuppositions that are not themselves intentional (Searle, 1983).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to IntuitionismIntentionality - Intentionality And Its History, Two Mistaken Theories Of Intentionality, The Relation Of Intentionality To Consciousness