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Intentionality, Normativity, and a Problem for Searle

  • Michael Gorman (a1)
Abstract
Résumé

Au cœur de la philosophie de John Searle se trouve une compréhension biologique de l'esprit. Mais il y a une tension dans sa position. D'un côté, la biologie moderne, telle qu'il la comprend, requiert une certaine conception de la normativité. D'un autre côté, la façon dont Searle lui-même comprend l'intentìonnalité requiert une conception très différente de la normativité. Pour résoudre la difficulté, Searle devrait à la fois modifier sa compréhension de la biologie et nuancer son idée que l'esprit est un phénomène biologique comme n'importe quel autre.

Résumé

Au cœur de la philosophie de John Searle se trouve une compréhension biologique de l'esprit. Mais il y a une tension dans sa position. D'un côté, la biologie moderne, telle qu'il la comprend, requiert une certaine conception de la normativité. D'un autre côté, la façon dont Searle lui-même comprend l'intentìonnalité requiert une conception très différente de la normativité. Pour résoudre la difficulté, Searle devrait à la fois modifier sa compréhension de la biologie et nuancer son idée que l'esprit est un phénomène biologique comme n'importe quel autre.

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Notes

1 See Searle John R., Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 136. For a more recent statement, see his Mind, Language and Society (New York: Basic Books, 1998), esp. pp. 99104.

2 Some examples, with representative discussions, are as follows: intentional states have not just a content, but a content represented under a certain aspect (Searle John R., The Rediscovery of the Mind [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992], p. 155); some intentional states appear not to have a direction of fit (Searle, Mind, Language and Society, p. 103); some intentional states have causally self-referential conditions of satisfaction (Searle, Intentionality: An Essay, pp. 47–50); all intentional states have at least the potential of coming to consciousness (Searle, Rediscovery, pp. 151–73); having intentional states does not require having awareness of the conditions of satisfaction of those states (Searle John R., “Response: Reference and Intentionality,” in John Searle and His Critics, edited by Lepore Ernest and Van Gulick Robert [Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1991], pp. 227–37).

3 By “representation” Searle means only that the belief is satisfied under certain conditions; he does not, in other words, mean that the belief is, or is directed towards, a picture of reality, or anything else along those lines (see Searle, Intentionality: An Essay, pp. 11–13).

4 Ibid., p. 8.

5 Searle John R., “Intentionality and Its Place in Nature,” Dialectica, 38, 2–3 (1984): 8799, esp. p. 98.

6 Searle, Rediscovery, p. 238.

7 Searle, Mind, Language and Society, pp. 121–22.

8 Searle John R., The Construction of Social Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1995), pp. 1415 (italics in original).

9 The connection between norm-imposition and norm-subservience can also be seen from the perspective of something Searle says in his Speech Acts (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969), chap. 8, assuming of course that one generalizes beyond the realm of language: norm-subservience is the “ought” that gets derived from the “is” of norm-imposition.

10 See, for example, Searle, Rediscovery, pp. 78–82.

11 For a debate with Rorty where this theme comes out strongly, see Rorty Richard and Searle John, “Rorty v. Searle, At Last: A Debate,” Logos, 2, 3 (Summer 1999): 2067; on p. 31 of this article, Searle says that certain kinds of academic work are “trash”; on p. 54 he implies that one ought not to think, “that's just fine, there's nothing wrong with trash” (emphasis in original). These passages imply that, for Searle, the value of truth is not dependent on our acts of valuing.

12 Searle, Rediscovery, p. 51. Another place where Searle discusses the observerrelativity of norm-subservience solely to combat a rival theory of mind is in chap. 10 of this same book. There the target is theories that postulate a distinct “functional level”; see especially pp. 237–40.

13 Ibid., pp. 89–90.

14 Searle, Mind, Language and Society, pp. 89, 95. In case there is any doubt about what Searle means by saying that intentionality is “part of the natural world,” the section that follows immediately after the last quoted passage is called “Intentionality Naturalized as a Biological Phenomenon.” See also Searle, Intentionality: An Essay, p. 264.

15 Searle, Construction, p. 16; Searle devotes pp. 14–19 to criticizing views of nature that take it as involving intrinsic norm-subservience.

16 Searle, Rediscovery, pp. 51–52. It might be objected that this passage ends with an exception-clause for organisms with minds. See below.

17 See n.5.

18 Other apparent exception-clauses have to be treated in the same way: “[E]xcept for those parts of nature that are conscious, nature knows nothing of functions” (Searle, Construction, p. 14); “[i]t is intrinsic to us that we hold these values, but the attribution of these values to nature independent of us is observer relative” (ibid., p. 15). These passages distinguish conscious beings from the rest of nature, but they present conscious beings as norm-imposers. Searle's point is that we (and other animals) intrinsically are norm-imposers and that norm-subservience exists in nature only relative to our imposition. As before, what allows these passages to sound like exception-clauses is that they are expressed ambiguously, in a way that does not clearly distinguish norm-imposition from norm-subservience.

19 After this article was submitted for publication, Searle published Rationality in Action (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001). He there strongly affirms the norm-subservience of intentional states and asserts that it is a biological fact (see esp. pp. 108–109, 181–83), but he makes no attempt to show how the mind's norm-subservience is consistent with its being biological. Unless one supposes that Searle has silently adopted a non-Darwinian understanding of biology, then, the problem remains. One possible attempt to solve it could be constructed on the basis of things he says, however. He tries to ground certain desire-independent reasons for action in the fact that agents have themselves undertaken obligations: a promise, for example, is intrinsically the undertaking of an obligation to do something, and an assertion is intrinsically the undertaking of a commitment to the truth of what one says (see esp. ibid. pp. 167–213). Perhaps one might try to assimilate intentional states to this model by, for example, treating the formation of a belief as the undertaking of a commitment to the truth of something: my coming to believe thatp is my committing myself to its being the case that p, and my belief that p is my being committed to its being that case that p. This would leave norm-subservience posterior to normimposition but without the danger of making belief observer-relative, because the norm is imposed by the believer himself in the very act of believing, as a constitutive element of his believing. (Without saying any of this, Searle uses the language of commitment to characterize belief; see esp. ibid. pp. 239–67.) This has a certain degree of plausibility for some beliefs, namely, those arrived at after a thought-process ending in a decision that it is the case that p, although it is not clear that it could be made to work in the end. What does seem fairly clear, however, is that it could not be made to work for beliefs that arise spontaneously; having such beliefs may in a loose sense be a “commitment” in the sense that it involves being subservient to a norm, but it would be very artificial to say that we have undertaken to place ourselves under the norm. Still less could such a proposal work for another class of states with the mind-to-world direction of fit, namely, perceptual states; seeing-a-car is norm-subservient, but someone who sees is not ipso facto someone who has undertaken a commitment. Hence, not all cases of norm-subservience in intentionality are rooted in commitment, even if some of them are.

20 I am grateful for comments from Anne-Marie Gorman, Mark Murphy, Barry Smith, and anonymous referees for this journal.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
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