John Rogers Searle (; born 31 July 1932) is an American philosopher. He is currently Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Language and Professor of the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. Widely noted for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and social philosophy, he began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959.
As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Searle was secretary of "Students against Joseph McCarthy". He received all his university degrees, BA, MA, and DPhil, from the University of Oxford, where he held his first faculty positions. Later, at UC Berkeley, he became the first tenured professor to join the 1964–1965 Free Speech Movement. In the late 1980s, Searle challenged the restrictions of Berkeley's 1980 rent stabilization ordinance. Following what came to be known as the California Supreme Court's "Searle Decision" of 1990, Berkeley changed its rent control policy, leading to large rent increases between 1991 and 1994.
In 2000 Searle received the Jean Nicod Prize; in 2004, the National Humanities Medal; and in 2006, the Mind & Brain Prize. Searle's early work on speech acts, influenced by J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein, helped establish his reputation. His notable concepts include the "Chinese room" argument against "strong" artificial intelligence. In March 2017 Searle was accused of sexual harassment.
Searle's father, G. W. Searle, an electrical engineer, was employed by AT&T Corporation, while his mother, Hester Beck Searle, was a physician.
Searle began his college education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in his junior year became a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, where he obtained all his university degrees, BA, MA, and DPhil. He received all his university degrees, BA, MA, and DPhil, from the University of Oxford, where he held his first faculty positions.
His first two faculty positions were at Oxford as Research Lecturer, and Lecturer and Tutor at Christ Church.
While an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Searle was the secretary of "Students against Joseph McCarthy". McCarthy was then the junior senator from Wisconsin. In 1959 Searle began teaching at Berkeley, and he was the first tenured professor to join the 1964–65 Free Speech Movement. In 1969, while serving as chairman of the Academic Freedom Committee of the Academic Senate of the University of California, he supported the university in its dispute with students over the People's Park. In The Campus War: A Sympathetic Look at the University in Agony (1971), Searle investigates the causes behind the campus protests of the era. In it he declares that: "I have been attacked by both the House Un-American Activities Committee and ... several radical polemicists ... Stylistically, the attacks are interestingly similar. Both rely heavily on insinuation and innuendo, and both display a hatred – one might almost say terror – of close analysis and dissection of argument." He asserts that "My wife was threatened that I (and other members of the administration) would be assassinated or violently attacked."
In the late 1980s, Searle, along with other landlords, petitioned Berkeley's rental board to raise the limits on how much he could charge tenants under the city's 1980 rent stabilization ordinance. The rental board refused to consider Searle's petition and Searle filed suit, charging a violation of due process. In 1990, in what came to be known as the "Searle Decision", the California Supreme Court upheld Searle's argument in part and Berkeley changed its rent control policy, leading to large rent increases between 1991 and 1994. Searle was reported to see the issue as one of fundamental rights, being quoted as saying "The treatment of landlords in Berkeley is comparable to the treatment of blacks in the South...our rights have been massively violated and we are here to correct that injustice." The court described the debate as a "morass of political invective, ad hominem attack, and policy argument".
Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Searle wrote an article arguing that the attacks were a particular event in a long-term struggle against forces that are intractably opposed to the United States, and signaled support for a more aggressive neoconservativeinterventionistforeign policy. He called for the realization that the United States is in a more-or-less permanent state of war with these forces. Moreover, a probable course of action would be to deny terrorists the use of foreign territory from which to stage their attacks. Finally, he alluded to the long-term nature of the conflict and blamed the attacks on the lack of American resolve to deal forcefully with America's enemies over the past several decades.
Sexual harassment allegations
In March 2017, Searle was the subject of sexual assault allegations. The Los Angeles Times reported: "A new lawsuit alleges that university officials failed to properly respond to complaints that John Searle, an 84-year-old renowned philosophy professor, sexually assaulted his 24-year-old research associate last July and cut her pay when she rejected his advances." Berkeley's alleged protection of Searle was seen in some quarters as a recurrence of earlier problems in dealing with similar accusations against other staff.
The suit, filed in a California court on March 21, 2017, seeks damages from both Searle and the Regents of the University of California as his employers. It also claims that Jennifer Hudin, the director of the John Searle Center for Social Ontology, where the complainant had been employed as an assistant to Searle, has stated that Searle "has had sexual relationships with his students and others in the past in exchange for academic, monetary or other benefits". It was reported that "[i]n early March, Searle’s students learned he would no longer be teaching his undergraduate 'Philosophy of Mind' course. Beyond citing 'personal reasons,' university officials provided no explanation for Searle’s departure, according to a department source who asked to remain anonymous."
After the lawsuit was made public, several previous allegations of sexual harassment by Searle were also revealed.
Awards and recognitions
He has five honorary doctorate degrees from four different countries and is an honorary visiting professor at Tsing Hua University and East China Normal University. Searle is an atheist.
In 2000 Searle received the Jean Nicod Prize; in 2004, the National Humanities Medal; and in 2006, the Mind & Brain Prize.
Searle's early work, which did a great deal to establish his reputation, was on speech acts. He attempted to synthesize ideas from many colleagues – including J. L. Austin (the "illocutionary act", from How To Do Things with Words), Ludwig Wittgenstein and G. C. J. Midgley (the distinction between regulative and constitutive rules) – with his own thesis that such acts are constituted by the rules of language. He also drew on the work of Paul Grice (the analysis of meaning as an attempt at being understood), Hare and Stenius (the distinction, concerning meaning, between illocutionary force and propositional content), P. F. Strawson, John Rawls and William Alston, who maintained that sentence meaning consists in sets of regulative rules requiring the speaker to perform the illocutionary act indicated by the sentence and that such acts involve the utterance of a sentence which (a) indicates that one performs the act; (b) means what one says; and (c) addresses an audience in the vicinity.
In his 1969 book Speech Acts, Searle sets out to combine all these elements to give his account of illocutionary acts. There he provides an analysis of what he considers the prototypical illocutionary act of promising and offers sets of semantical rules intended to represent the linguistic meaning of devices indicating further illocutionary act types. Among the concepts presented in the book is the distinction between the "illocutionary force" and the "propositional content" of an utterance. Searle does not precisely define the former as such, but rather introduces several possible illocutionary forces by example. According to Searle, the sentences...
- Sam smokes habitually.
- Does Sam smoke habitually?
- Sam, smoke habitually!
- Would that Sam smoked habitually!
...each indicate the same propositional content (Sam smoking habitually) but differ in the illocutionary force indicated (respectively, a statement, a question, a command and an expression of desire).
According to a later account, which Searle presents in Intentionality (1983) and which differs in important ways from the one suggested in Speech Acts, illocutionary acts are characterised by their having "conditions of satisfaction" (an idea adopted from Strawson's 1971 paper "Meaning and Truth") and a "direction of fit" (an idea adopted from Elizabeth Anscombe). For example, the statement "John bought two candy bars" is satisfied if and only if it is true, i.e. John did buy two candy bars. By contrast, the command "John, buy two candy bars!" is satisfied if and only if John carries out the action of purchasing two candy bars. Searle refers to the first as having the "word-to-world" direction of fit, since the words are supposed to change to accurately represent the world, and the second as having the "world-to-word" direction of fit, since the world is supposed to change to match the words. (There is also the double direction of fit, in which the relationship goes both ways, and the null or zero direction of fit, in which it goes neither way because the propositional content is presupposed, as in "I'm sorry I ate John's candy bars.")
In Foundations of Illocutionary Logic (1985, with Daniel Vanderveken), Searle prominently uses the notion of the "illocutionary point".
Searle's speech-act theory has been challenged by several thinkers in a variety of ways. Collections of articles referring to Searle's account are found in Burkhardt 1990 and Lepore / van Gulick 1991.
See also: Limited Inc
In the early 1970s, Searle had a brief exchange with Jacques Derrida regarding speech-act theory. The exchange was characterized by a degree of mutual hostility between the philosophers, each of whom accused the other of having misunderstood his basic points. Searle was particularly hostile to Derrida's deconstructionist framework and much later refused to let his response to Derrida be printed along with Derrida's papers in the 1988 collection Limited Inc. Searle did not consider Derrida's approach to be legitimate philosophy or even intelligible writing and argued that he did not want to legitimize the deconstructionist point of view by dedicating any attention to it. Consequently, some critics have considered the exchange to be a series of elaborate misunderstandings rather than a debate, while others have seen either Derrida or Searle gaining the upper hand. The level of hostility can be seen from Searle's statement that "It would be a mistake to regard Derrida's discussion of Austin as a confrontation between two prominent philosophical traditions", to which Derrida replied that that sentence was "the only sentence of the 'reply' to which I can subscribe". Commentators have frequently interpreted the exchange as a prominent example of a confrontation between analytical and continental philosophy.
The debate began in 1972, when, in his paper "Signature Event Context", Derrida analyzed J. L. Austin's theory of the illocutionary act. While sympathetic to Austin's departure from a purely denotational account of language to one that includes "force", Derrida was sceptical of the framework of normativity employed by Austin. He argued that Austin had missed the fact that any speech event is framed by a "structure of absence" (the words that are left unsaid due to contextual constraints) and by "iterability" (the constraints on what can be said, given by what has been said in the past). Derrida argued that the focus on intentionality in speech-act theory was misguided because intentionality is restricted to that which is already established as a possible intention. He also took issue with the way Austin had excluded the study of fiction, non-serious or "parasitic" speech, wondering whether this exclusion was because Austin had considered these speech genres governed by different structures of meaning, or simply due to a lack of interest.
In his brief reply to Derrida, "Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida", Searle argued that Derrida's critique was unwarranted because it assumed that Austin's theory attempted to give a full account of language and meaning when its aim was much narrower. Searle considered the omission of parasitic discourse forms to be justified by the narrow scope of Austin's inquiry. Searle agreed with Derrida's proposal that intentionality presupposes iterability, but did not apply the same concept of intentionality used by Derrida, being unable or unwilling to engage with the continental conceptual apparatus. This, in turn, caused Derrida to criticize Searle for not being sufficiently familiar with phenomenological perspectives on intentionality. Searle also argued that Derrida's disagreement with Austin turned on his having misunderstood Austin's (and Peirce's) type–token distinction and his failure to understand Austin's concept of failure in relation to performativity. Some critics have suggested that Searle, by being so grounded in the analytical tradition, was unable to engage with Derrida's continental phenomenological tradition and was at fault for the unsuccessful nature of the exchange.
Derrida, in his response to Searle ("a b c ..." in Limited Inc), ridiculed Searle's positions. Arguing that a clear sender of Searle's message could not be established, he suggested that Searle had formed with Austin a société à responsabilité limitée (a "limited liability company") due to the ways in which the ambiguities of authorship within Searle's reply circumvented the very speech act of his reply. Searle did not respond. Later in 1988, Derrida tried to review his position and his critiques of Austin and Searle, reiterating that he found the constant appeal to "normality" in the analytical tradition to be problematic.
In the debate, Derrida praises Austin's work, but argues that he is wrong to banish what Austin calls "infelicities" from the "normal" operation of language. One "infelicity," for instance, occurs when it cannot be known whether a given speech act is "sincere" or "merely citational" (and therefore possibly ironic, etc.). Derrida argues that every iteration is necessarily "citational", due to the graphematic nature of speech and writing, and that language could not work at all without the ever-present and ineradicable possibility of such alternate readings. Derrida takes Searle to task for his attempt to get around this issue by grounding final authority in the speaker's inaccessible "intention". Derrida argues that intention cannot possibly govern how an iteration signifies, once it becomes hearable or readable. All speech acts borrow a language whose significance is determined by historical-linguistic context, and by the alternate possibilities that this context makes possible. This significance, Derrida argues, cannot be altered or governed by the whims of intention.
In 1995, Searle gave a brief reply to Derrida in The Construction of Social Reality. "Derrida, as far as I can tell, does not have an argument. He simply declares that there is nothing outside of texts (Il n'y a pas de 'hors-texte')." Then, in Limited Inc., Derrida "apparently takes it all back", claiming that he meant only "the banality that everything exists in some context or other!" Derrida and others like him present "an array of weak or even nonexistent arguments for a conclusion that seems preposterous". In Of Grammatology (1967), Derrida claims that a text must not be interpreted by reference to anything "outside of language", which for him means "outside of writing in general". He adds: "There is nothing outside of the text [there is no outside-text; il n'y a pas de hors-texte]" (brackets in the translation). This is a metaphor: un hors-texte is a bookbinding term, referring to a 'plate' bound among pages of text. Searle cites Derrida's supplementary metaphor rather than his initial contention. However, whether Searle's objection is good against that contention is the point in debate.
Intentionality and the background
Searle defines intentionality as the power of minds to be about, to represent (see Correspondence theory of truth), or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs in the world. The nature of intentionality is an important part of discussions of Searle's "Philosophy of Mind". Searle emphasizes that the word ‘intentionality, (the part of the mind directed to/from/about objects and relations in the world independent of mind) should not be confused with the word ‘intensionality’ (the logical property of some sentences that do not pass the test of 'extensionality'). In Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (1983), Searle applies certain elements of his account(s) of "illocutionary acts" to the investigation of intentionality. Searle also introduces a technical term the Background, which, according to him, has been the source of much philosophical discussion ("though I have been arguing for this thesis for almost twenty years," Searle writes, "many people whose opinions I respect still disagree with me about it"). He calls Background the set of abilities, capacities, tendencies, and dispositions that humans have and that are not themselves intentional states. Thus, when someone asks us to "cut the cake" we know to use a knife and when someone asks us to "cut the grass" we know to use a lawnmower (and not vice versa), even though the actual request did not include this detail. Searle sometimes supplements his reference to the Background with the concept of the Network, one's network of other beliefs, desires, and other intentional states necessary for any particular intentional state to make sense. Searle argues that the concept of a Background is similar to the concepts provided by several other thinkers, including Wittgenstein's private language argument ("the work of the later Wittgenstein is in large part about the Background") and Pierre Bourdieu's habitus.
To give an example, two chess players might be engaged in a bitter struggle at the board, but they share all sorts of Background presuppositions: that they will take turns to move, that no one else will intervene, that they are both playing to the same rules, that the fire alarm won't go off, that the board won't suddenly disintegrate, that their opponent won't magically turn into a grapefruit, and so on indefinitely. As most of these possibilities won't have occurred to either player, Searle thinks the Background must be unconscious, though elements of it can be called to consciousness (if the fire alarm does go off, say).
In his debate with Derrida, Searle argued against Derrida's view that a statement can be disjoined from the original intentionality of its author, for example when no longer connected to the original author, while still being able to produce meaning. Searle maintained that even if one was to see a written statement with no knowledge of authorship it would still be impossible to escape the question of intentionality, because "a meaningful sentence is just a standing possibility of the (intentional) speech act". For Searle ascribing intentionality to a statement was a basic requirement for attributing it any meaning at all.
Building upon his views about intentionality, Searle presents a view concerning consciousness in his book The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992). He argues that, starting with behaviorism (an early but influential scientific view, succeeded by many later accounts that Searle also dismisses), much of modern philosophy has tried to deny the existence of consciousness, with little success. In Intentionality, he parodies several alternative theories of consciousness by replacing their accounts of intentionality with comparable accounts of the hand:
- No one would think of saying, for example, "Having a hand is just being disposed to certain sorts of behavior such as grasping" (manual behaviorism), or "Hands can be defined entirely in terms of their causes and effects" (manual functionalism), or "For a system to have a hand is just for it to be in a certain computer state with the right sorts of inputs and outputs" (manual Turing machine functionalism), or "Saying that a system has hands is just adopting a certain stance toward it" (the manual stance). (p. 263)
Searle argues that philosophy has been trapped by a false dichotomy: that, on the one hand, the world consists of nothing but objective particles in fields of force, but that yet, on the other hand, consciousness is clearly a subjective first-person experience.
Searle says simply that both are true: consciousness is a real subjective experience, caused by the physical processes of the brain. (A view which he suggests might be called biological naturalism.)
Searle has argued that critics like Daniel Dennett, who (he claims) insist that discussing subjectivity is unscientific because science presupposes objectivity, are making a category error. Perhaps the goal of science is to establish and validate statements which are epistemically objective, (i.e., whose truth can be discovered and evaluated by any interested party), but are not necessarily ontologically objective.
Searle calls any value judgment epistemically subjective. Thus, "McKinley is prettier than Everest" is "epistemically subjective", whereas "McKinley is higher than Everest" is "epistemically objective." In other words, the latter statement is evaluable (in fact, falsifiable) by an understood ('background') criterion for mountain height, like 'the summit is so many meters above sea level'. No such criteria exist for prettiness.
Beyond this distinction, Searle thinks there are certain phenomena (including all conscious experiences) that are ontologically subjective, i.e. can only exist as subjective experience. For example, although it might be subjective or objective in the epistemic sense, a doctor's note that a patient suffers from back pain is an ontologically objective claim: it counts as a medical diagnosis only because the existence of back pain is "an objective fact of medical science". The pain itself, however, is ontologically subjective: it is only experienced by the person having it.
Searle goes on to affirm that "where consciousness is concerned, the existence of the appearance is the reality". His view that the epistemic and ontological senses of objective/subjective are cleanly separable is crucial to his self-proclaimed biological naturalism.
See also: Chinese room and philosophy of artificial intelligence
A consequence of biological naturalism is that if we want to create a conscious being, we will have to duplicate whatever physical processes the brain goes through to cause consciousness. Searle thereby means to contradict what he calls "Strong AI", defined by the assumption that as soon as a certain kind of software is running on a computer, a conscious being is thereby created.
In 1980, Searle presented the "Chinese room" argument, which purports to prove the falsity of strong AI. Assume you do not speak Chinese and imagine yourself in a room with two slits, a book, and some scratch paper. Someone slides you some Chinese characters through the first slit, you follow the instructions in the book, transcribing characters as instructed onto the scratch paper, and slide the resulting sheet out the second slit. To people on the outside world, it appears the room speaks Chinese—they slide Chinese statements in one slit and get valid responses in return—yet you do not understand a word of Chinese. This suggests, according to Searle, that no computer can ever understand Chinese or English, because, as the thought experiment suggests, being able to 'translate' Chinese into English does not entail 'understanding' either Chinese or English: all which the person in the thought experiment, and hence a computer, is able to do is to execute certain syntactic manipulations.
Stevan Harnad argues that Searle's "Strong AI" is really just another name for functionalism and computationalism, and that these positions are the real targets of his critique. Functionalists argue that consciousness can be defined as a set of informational processes inside the brain. It follows that anything that carries out the same informational processes as a human is also conscious. Thus, if we wrote a computer program that was conscious, we could run that computer program on, say, a system of ping-pong balls and beer cups and the system would be equally conscious, because it was running the same information processes.
Searle argues that this is impossible, since consciousness is a physical property, like digestion or fire. No matter how good a simulation of digestion you build on the computer, it will not digest anything; no matter how well you simulate fire, nothing will get burnt. By contrast, informational processes are observer-relative: observers pick out certain patterns in the world and consider them information processes, but information processes are not things-in-the-world themselves. Since they do not exist at a physical level, Searle argues, they cannot have causal efficacy and thus cannot cause consciousness. There is no physical law, Searle insists, that can see the equivalence between a personal computer, a series of ping-pong balls and beer cans, and a pipe-and-water system all implementing the same program.
Searle extended his inquiries into observer-relative phenomena by trying to understand social reality. Searle begins by arguing collective intentionality (e.g. "we're going for a walk") is a distinct form of intentionality, not simply reducible to individual intentionality (e.g. "I'm going for a walk with him and I think he thinks he's going for a walk with me and he thinks I think I'm going for a walk with him and ...").
In The Construction of Social Reality (1995), Searle addresses the mystery of how social constructs like "baseball" or "money" can exist in a world consisting only of physical particles in fields of force. Adapting an idea by Elizabeth Anscombe in "On Brute Facts," Searle distinguishes between brute facts, like the height of a mountain, and institutional facts, like the score of a baseball game. Aiming at an explanation of social phenomena in terms of Anscombe's notion, he argues that society can be explained in terms of institutional facts, and institutional facts arise out of collective intentionality through constitutive rules with the logical form "X counts as Y in C". Thus, for instance, filling out a ballot counts as a vote in a polling place, getting so many votes counts as a victory in an election, getting a victory counts as being elected president in the presidential race, etc.
Many sociologists, however, do not see Searle's contributions to social theory as very significant. Neil Gross, for example, argues that Searle's views on society are more or less a reconstitution of the sociologist Émile Durkheim's theories of social facts, social institutions, collective representations, and the like. Searle's ideas are thus open to the same criticisms as Durkheim's. Searle responded that Durkheim's work was worse than he had originally believed and, admitting he had not read much of Durkheim's work, said that, "Because Durkheim’s account seemed so impoverished I did not read any further in his work."Steven Lukes, however, responded to Searle's response to Gross and argued point by point against the allegations that Searle makes against Durkheim, essentially upholding Gross' argument that Searle's work bears great resemblance to Durkheim's. Lukes attributes Searle's miscomprehension of Durkheim's work to the fact that Searle never read Durkheim.
In recent years, Searle's main interlocutor on issues of social ontology has been Tony Lawson. Although their accounts of social reality are similar, there are important differences. Lawson places emphasis on the notion of social totality whereas Searle prefers to refer to institutional facts. Furthermore, Searle believes that emergence implies causal reduction whereas Lawson argues that social totalities cannot be completed explained by the causal powers of their components. Searle also places language at the foundation of the construction of social reality while Lawson believes that community formation necessarily precedes the development of language and therefore there must be the possibility for non-linguistic social structure formation. The debate is ongoing and takes place additionally through regular meetings of the Centre for Social Ontology at the University of California, Berkeley and the Cambridge Social Ontology Group at the University of Cambridge.
In Rationality in Action (2001), Searle argues that standard notions of rationality are badly flawed. According to what he calls the Classical Model, rationality is seen as something like a train track: you get on at one point with your beliefs and desires and the rules of rationality compel you all the way to a conclusion. Searle doubts this picture of rationality holds generally.
Searle briefly critiques one particular set of these rules: those of mathematical decision theory. He points out that its axioms require that anyone who valued a quarter and their life would, at some odds, bet their life for a quarter. Searle insists he would never take such a bet and believes that this stance is perfectly rational.
Most of his attack is directed against the common conception of rationality, which he believes is badly flawed. First, he argues that reasons don't cause you to do anything, because having sufficient reason wills (but doesn't force) you to do that thing. So in any decision situation we experience a gap between our reasons and our actions. For example, when we decide to vote, we do not simply determine that we care most about economic policy and that we prefer candidate Jones's economic policy. We also have to make an effort to cast our vote. Similarly, every time a guilty smoker lights a cigarette they are aware of succumbing to their craving, not merely of acting automatically as they do when they exhale. It is this gap that makes us think we have freedom of the will. Searle thinks whether we really have free will or not is an open question, but considers its absence highly unappealing because it makes the feeling of freedom of will an epiphenomenon, which is highly unlikely from the evolutionary point of view given its biological cost. He also says: " All rational activity presupposes free will ".
Second, Searle believes we can rationally do things that don't result from our own desires. It is widely believed that one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is", i.e. that facts about how the world is can never tell you what you should do ('Hume's Law'). By contrast, in so far as a fact is understood as relating to an institution (marriage, promises, commitments, etc.), which is to be understood as a system of constitutive rules, then what one should do can be understood as following from the institutional fact of what one has done; institutional fact, then, can be understood as opposed to the "brute facts" related to Hume's Law. For example, Searle believes the fact that you promised to do something means you should do it, because by making the promise you are participating in the constitutive rules that arrange the system of promise making itself, and therefore understand a "shouldness" as implicit in the mere factual action of promising. Furthermore, he believes that this provides a desire-independent reason for an action—if you order a drink at a bar, you should pay for it even if you have no desire to. This argument, which he first made in his paper, "How to Derive 'Ought' from 'Is'" (1964), remains highly controversial, but even three decades later Searle continued to defend his view that "..the traditional metaphysical distinction between fact and value cannot be captured by the linguistic distinction between 'evaluative' and 'descriptive' because all such speech act notions are already normative."
Third, Searle argues that much of rational deliberation involves adjusting our (often inconsistent) patterns of desires to decide between outcomes, not the other way around. While in the Classical Model, one would start from a desire to go to Paris greater than that of saving money and calculate the cheapest way to get there, in reality people balance the niceness of Paris against the costs of travel to decide which desire (visiting Paris or saving money) they value more. Hence, he believes rationality is not a system of rules, but more of an adverb. We see certain behavior as rational, no matter what its source, and our system of rules derives from finding patterns in what we see as rational.
- Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521096263
- The Campus War: A Sympathetic Look at the University in Agony (political commentary; 1971)
- Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (essay collection; 1979)
- Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (1983)
- Minds, Brains and Science: The 1984 Reith Lectures (lecture collection; 1984)
- Foundations of Illocutionary Logic (John Searle & Daniel Vanderveken 1985)
- The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992)
- The Construction of Social Reality (1995)
- The Mystery of Consciousness (review collection; 1997)
- Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World (summary of earlier work; 1998)
- Rationality in Action (2001)
- Consciousness and Language (essay collection; 2002)
- Freedom and Neurobiology (lecture collection; 2004)
- Mind: A Brief Introduction (summary of work in philosophy of mind; 2004)
- Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays (2008)
- Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization (2010)
- “What Your Computer Can’t Know” (review of Luciano Floridi, The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere Is Reshaping Human Reality, Oxford University Press, 2014; and Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Oxford University Press, 2014), The New York Review of Books, vol. LXI, no. 15 (October 9, 2014), pp. 52–55.
- Seeing Things As They Are: A Theory of Perception (2015)
- John Searle and His Critics (Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, eds.; 1991)
- John Searle (Barry Smith, ed.; 2003)
- John Searle and the Construction of Social Reality (Joshua Rust; 2006)
- Intentional Acts and Institutional Facts (Savas Tsohatzidis, ed.; 2007)
- John Searle (Joshua Rust; 2009)
- ^"Introduction: John Searle in Czech Context"(PDF). Sav.sk. 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
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- ^ ab"President Bush Awards 2004 National Humanities Medals". NEH.gov. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
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- ^"Socrates and Berkeley Scholars Web Hosting Services Have Been Retired - Web Platform Services". socrates.berkeley.edu.
- ^"The Campus War". Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- ^See Searle v. City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Bd. (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 1251, 1253 [243 Cal.Rptr. 449]
- ^California, Berkeley Daily Planet, Berkeley (December 14, 2004). "Letters to the Editor. Category: Features from The Berkeley Daily Planet". BerkeleyDailyPlanet.com. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
- ^Gerald Korngold, Whatever Happened to Landlord-Tenant Law?, 77 Neb. L. Rev. (1998). Available at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol77/iss4/5
- ^Watanabe, Tessa (March 23, 2017). "Lawsuit alleges that a UC Berkeley professor sexually assaulted his researcher and cut her pay when she rejected him". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
- ^Fraley, Malaika (March 23, 2017). "Berkeley: Renowned philosopher John Searle accused of sexual assault and harassment at UC Berkeley". East Bay Times. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
- ^Flaherty, Colleen (March 23, 2017). "Sexual misconduct and the Faculty Code: In wake of scandals, U of California strengthens faculty policies against sexual harassment and assault". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
- ^Baker, Katie J. M. (April 7, 2017). "UC Berkeley Was Warned About Its Star Professor Years Before Sexual Harassment Lawsuit". BuzzFeedNews. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
- ^ abBaker, Katie J.M. (March 24, 2017). "A Former Student Says UC Berkeley's Star Philosophy Professor Groped Her And Watched Porn At Work". BuzzFeedNews. Retrieved March 28, 2017. Contains facsimile of the suit.
- ^Tate, Emily (April 10, 2017). "Earlier Complaints on Professor Accused of Harassment". Inside Higher Ed.
- ^Reviewing an episode of the Channel 4 series Voices: "On the one hand, Sir John Eccles, a quiet-spoken theist with the most devastating way of answering questions with a single "yes", on the other, Professor Searle, a flamboyant atheist using words I've never heard of or likely to again "now we know that renal secretions synthesize a substance called angiotensin and that angiotensin gets into the hypothalamus and causes a series of neuron firings". " Peter Dear, 'Today's television and radio programmes', The Times, February 22, 1984; pg. 31; Issue 61764; col A.
- ^John R. Searle (1969). Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521096263.
- ^John R. Searle, Daniel Vanderveken (1985). Foundations of Illocutionary Logic. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26324-7.
- ^Although Searle does not mention earlier uses of the concept, it originates from Alexander Sesonske's article "Performatives".
- ^Burkhardt, Armin (ed.), Speech Acts, Meaning and Intentions: Critical Approaches to the Philosophy of John R. Searle. Berlin / New York 1990.
- ^Lepore, Ernest / van Gulick, Robert (eds): John Searle and his Critics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1991.
- ^Derrida, Jacques. Limited, Inc. Northwestern University Press, 1988. p. 29: "...I have read some of his [Searle's] work (more, in any case, than he seems to have read of mine)"
- ^Maclean, Ian. 2004. "un dialogue de sourds? Some implications of the Austin–Searle–Derrida debate", in Jacques Derrida: critical thought. Ian Maclachlan (ed.) Ashgate Publishing, 2004
- ^ abc"Another Look at the Derrida-Searle Debate". Mark Alfino. Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 24, No. 2 (1991), pp. 143–152 
- ^Simon Glendinning. 2001. Arguing with Derrida. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 18
- ^Gregor Campbell. 1993. "John R. Searle" in Irene Rima Makaryk (ed). Encyclopedia of contemporary literary theory: approaches, scholars, terms. University of Toronto Press, 1993
- ^John Searle, "Reiterating the Différences: A Reply to Derrida", Glyph 2 (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977).
- ^ abMarian Hobson. 1998. Jacques Derrida: opening lines. Psychology Press. pp. 95–97
- ^Jacques Derrida, "Afterwords" in Limited, Inc. (Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 133
- ^Farrell, F. B. (1988). "Iterability and meaning: the Searle–Derrida debate". Metaphilosophy. 19: 53–64. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9973.1988.tb00701.
- ^"With the Compliments of the Author: Reflections on Austin and Derrida". Stanley E. Fish. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer 1982), pp. 693-721.
- ^"Derrida, Searle, Contexts, Games, Riddles". Edmond Wright. New Literary History, Vol. 13, No. 3 ("Theory: Parodies, Puzzles, Paradigms"), Spring 1982, pp. 463–477.
- ^"Convention and Meaning: Derrida and Austin". Jonathan Culler. New Literary History, Vol. 13, No. 1 ("On Convention: I"), Autumn 1981, pp. 15–30.
- ^Kenaan, Hagi. "Language, philosophy and the risk of failure: rereading the debate between Searle and Derrida". Continental Philosophy Review. 35 (2): 117–133. doi:10.1023/A:1016583115826.
- ^Raffel, Stanley. "Understanding Each Other: The Case of the Derrida-Searle Debate"(PDF). Human Studies. 34 (3): 277–292. doi:10.1007/s10746-011-9189-6.
- ^Searle, John (1995). The Construction of Social Reality. London: Allen Lane The Penguin P. pp. 159–60.
- ^Derrida, Jacques (1976). Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P. p. 158.
- ^Collins Robert French-English English-French Dictionary (2 ed.). London/Paris: Collins/Robert. 1987.
- ^Searle, Intentionality (1983)
- ^Searle "Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization" (2010) p. 48-62
- ^Searle, Intentionality (1983); The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992) ch. 8
- ^"Literary Theory and Its Discontents", New Literary History, 640
- ^Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992), p.177
- ^Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992), p.185
- ^John Searle, "Reiterating the Différences: A Reply to Derrida'"', Glyph 2 (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977 p. 202
- ^Gerald Graff. 1988. Summary of Reiterating the differences. in Derrida, JAcques. Limited Inc. p. 26.
- ^Searle, J R: The Mystery of Consciousness (1997) p. 95-131
- ^Searle, J R: The Mystery of Consciousness (1997) p.122
- ^Searle, J R: The Mystery of Consciousness (1997) p.112
- ^". . . I call the view that all there is to having a mind is having a program, Strong AI, . . . " The Rediscovery of the Mind, p.201
- ^"Minds, Brains and Programs"Archived
This entry includes the following supplementary documents linked into the text, as described above.
- Arguments for Intentionalism
- Phenomenology and Intentionalism
- Consciousness of Self
1. The Interpretation of “Consciousness”
On an understanding fairly common among philosophers, consciousness is the feature that makes states count as experiences in a certain sense: to be a conscious state is to be an experience. Widely (but not universally) accepted examples would include sensory states, imagery, episodic thought, and emotions of the sort we commonly enjoy. For instance, when you see something red, it looks somehow to you; when you hear a crash, it sounds somehow to you. Its looking to you as it does, and its sounding to you as it does are experiences in this sense. Likewise, when you close your eyes and visualize a triangle, or when you feel pain, the visualizing and the feeling are experiences. Similarly, you typically have experiences in thinking about how to answer a math problem, or what to say in an email, in recalling where you parked the car, and in feeling anger, shame, relief, or elation. Experiences in this sense are said to have varying “phenomenal character” for one who has them. Where feelings are concerned, these would be the varying ways they feel to you. However, not all experiences are classifiable as feelings. So more broadly we might say that how you experience your own experience—how it is “subjectively experienced”—is its phenomenal (or its “subjective”) character.
The relevant notion is also often introduced by saying that there is, in a certain sense, always “something it is like” to be in a given conscious state—something it’s like for one who is in that state—and what it’s like for you to be in a state is what makes it a conscious state of the kind it is. The phenomenal character of an experience is what someone would inquire about by asking, e.g., “What is it like to experience orgasm?”—and it is what we speak of when we say that we know what that is like, even if we cannot convey this to one who doesn’t know. Coordinating this with previous remarks: how you experience your experiences (e.g., how your feelings feel to you) is what it is like for you to have them.
Our understanding of what is meant by “conscious” might also be sharpened by contrasting conscious states with what we can readily conceive of keeping from their company. A leaf’s fall from a tree branch, we will likely suppose, is not a conscious state of the leaf—an experience in the desired sense. Nor, for that matter, is a person’s fall off a branch a conscious state of that person. Rather, it is the feeling of falling that is paradigmatically conscious, if anything is. Dreaming of falling would also be a conscious state in this sense. By contrast: we can be said to sense (and so adjust) the position of our limbs when dreamlessly asleep. But this proprioception, we may suppose, is not conscious—provided it does not feel anyhow to us sleepers, as it commonly does when we are awake. And in general we may understand a contrast between the familiar sensory experience we have of stimuli (when, say, these smell or sound somehow to us), and other discriminatory responses to the same stimuli in the absence of any such experience—which we may still intelligibly describe as sensing or perceiving. (We can readily think of the sensing or perceiving attributed to plants and simple artifacts in this way.)
Though the terms “experience” and “something it”s like for…’ are commonly used more or less in the way just suggested to identify the notion of consciousness, it must be said right off that their interpretation is subject to doubt and controversy that can affect one’s fundamental ideas about the topics treated here. Anyone wanting to think carefully about consciousness must face the fact that the basic terms of discussion are infused with complex disagreements from the start.
To see how the notion of experience might occasion such disputes, consider: Christopher Hill (2009) acknowledges that you may say that both being struck by a thought (e.g., that the email you just received is a scam), and feeling a sensation (say, a tingling in your foot) are “experiences”. But he maintains this is ambiguous: only the second is properly an experience, hence conscious, in the phenomenal sense. On this view, it seems episodic thought and sensation would count as univocally experiential, hence conscious, only if the former is identified with imagery. By contrast, Charles Siewert (2012a, 2014) holds thinking and sensing are indeed univocally experiences, though we should take care to distinguish the relevant sense from others (such as we might find, for example, in saying “sea slugs learn from experience” and “Hurricane Sandy was quite an experience”). Meanwhile, Alex Byrne 2009 voices skepticism about the very idea of experience in the “special philosophical” sense.
When it comes to the “what it’s like” locution, Hill and Siewert would agree that we can speak of there being something it’s like to be in a state whose status as conscious, in the target sense, can hardly be taken for granted. (As Jaegwon Kim 2011 points out, we can meaningfully ask someone what it was like for her to meet the President.) However, Siewert (2014) argues that we can surmount this difficulty, provided we think of conscious states as ones there is non-derivatively something it’s like for one to be in. But Kim and Hill conclude that the locution is simply ill-suited to give us a grip on the notion of consciousness, preferring terminology that Siewert, in turn, finds suspicious; for them, conscious states are states with “qualia”, or “qualitative character”. (After C.I. Lewis 1929 introduced the term “qualia” for what is given sensorily to the mind prior to conceptualization, it became common to use it to speak of consciousness generally. See Crane (forthcoming) and Keely (2009) for illuminating histories.)
Other problems of interpretation complicate recent discussion in ways very germane to the present topic. As suggested above, the experiential/what it’s like conception of consciousness is sometimes marked by the term “phenomenal”. The qualifier suggests that there are other kinds of consciousness (or perhaps, other senses of “consciousness”). Indeed there are, at least, other ways of introducing notions of consciousness. And these may appear to pick out features or senses altogether distinct from that just presented. But their relationship is controversial. For example, it is said that some (but not all) that goes on in the mind is “accessible to consciousness”. This may encourage the thought that consciousness itself is nothing but a certain kind of access to or accessibility of information—for instance, to a “speech center” responsible for generating “direct verbal reports” of the contents of one’s states of mind—as in Daniel Dennett’s early (1969) theorizing about consciousness. And Ned Block (1995, 2001, 2002) has proposed that, on one understanding of “conscious”, (which he finds at work in psychological theories) a conscious state is just a “representation poised” (or as he later put it, “broadcast”) “for free use in reasoning and other direct ‘rational’ control of action (including reporting)”. Block labels consciousness in this sense access consciousness. (Examples of theories he sees as employing this notion include Baars 1997 and Dennett 1978, 1991.)
But what is the relationship between various kinds of information access and consciousness in the phenomenal, experiential sense? Block distinguishes the notions of phenomenal and access consciousness, arguing that a mental representation’s being poised or broadcast for use in reasoning and rational control of action is neither conceptually necessary nor sufficient for the state’s being phenomenally conscious. Similarly he distinguishes phenomenal consciousness from what he calls “monitoring consciousness”—where this has to do with one’s capacity to represent one’s mind’s to oneself; to have, for example, thoughts about one’s own thoughts, feelings, or desires. One need not take Block’s notions of phenomenal, access, and monitoring consciousness to reflect clear, definite distinctions already contained in our pre-theoretical use of the term “conscious”. Block himself suggests that (on the contrary) our initial, ordinary concept of consciousness is too confused (too “mongrel”) even to count as ambiguous. Thus in articulating an interpretation of the term adequate to frame theoretical issues, we cannot simply describe how it is currently employed (Block 1995, 2002).
Though Block’s proposed threefold distinction has proven influential, some would balk at proceeding on its basis. John Searle, for example, would recognize phenomenal consciousness, but deny Block’s other two candidates are proper senses of “conscious” at all (Searle 1992). The dispute here may seem no more than terminological. However, Hill 2009 doubts there is a clear sense in which the information in all the states theorists want to count as conscious actually is continually being broadcast to some control faculty. And this is to doubt the reality of access consciousness, as often understood. The reality of the forms of monitoring consciousness that figure in contemporary theories (such as “inner sense”) may also be doubted (Dretske 1995; Siewert 1998, 2012b). Finally, some raise doubts that there is a properly phenomenal sense we can rightly apply to ourselves and distinguish from the other two (see Dennett 1988, 1991 and Rey 1997). So it seems the issues here are not trivially terminological. This is evident also when we consider the idea that while phenomenal consciousness is real, and our notion of this may be distinguishable from those of access or monitoring, a proper theory of these latter two explains what consciousness is—what it consists in. So, what it is for one to have a phenomenally conscious visual experience of a color or shape, for example, is just for one to have a visual representation of a certain (potentially unconscious) type that is poised to affect belief (Tye 1995, 2002), or that furnishes information to a short term memory store with a special role in behavioral control (Prinz 2012). Or it is to have the right sort of “higher-order representation” of a visual state (Armstrong 1968; Rosenthal 2002b; Carruthers 2000, 2004; Lycan 1995, 2004). However, for some (Siewert 1998, 2010) recognizing nothing but access or monitoring in the manner of such theories amounts to denying the reality of phenomenal consciousness. These are evidently not just disputes about words; they concern what there is to talk about.
For the purposes of this survey we will assume there is a reasonable interpretation of the remarks in the first three paragraphs of this section under which they pick out something real for us to call “consciousness”, even if this term may be legitimately interpreted in other ways. But we should acknowledge it is open to question whether, when the philosophers here under discussion use the term “conscious”, its cognates and their standard translations, they are all talking about consciousness in that sense. And we will leave open as much as possible how precisely to relate it to notions such as rational control, higher-order representation, and conceptual activity—disputed issues important to determining its relationship to intentionality, to be encountered below in various guises.
2. The Interpretation of “Intentionality”
The term “conscious” is not esoteric. But, as we’ve seen, its use is not readily characterized in a manner that provides some coherent, impartial framework for disciplined investigation. This is part of why theorizing about consciousness is so hard. Where the term “intentionality” is concerned, we also face confusing and contentious usage. But here the problem lies partly in the fact that the relevant use is definitely not that found in common speech employing cognate terms (as when we speak of doing something intentionally). In any case, here too we must recognize basic problems of interpretation that affect substantive issues, highly pertinent to the present discussion.
One way philosophers have often explained what they mean by “intentionality” is this: it is that aspect of mental states or events that consists in their being of or about things, as pertains to the questions, “What are you thinking of?” and “What are you thinking about?” Intentionality is the aboutness or directedness or reference of mind (or states of mind) to things, objects, states of affairs, events. So if you are thinking about San Francisco, or about the cost of living there, or about your meeting someone at Union Square—your mind, your thinking, is directed toward San Francisco, or the cost of living, or the meeting in Union Square. This “directedness” conception of intentionality plays a prominent role in the philosophy of Franz Brentano and those whose views developed, directly or indirectly, in response to his (to be discussed in Section 3).
But what positive features distinguish the relevant intentionality-marking senses of these words (“about”, “of”, “directed”) from those found in: “the cat is wandering about the room”; “she is a person of integrity”; “the river”s course was directed towards the fields’? As for talk of intentionality as reference, just how are we to distinguish the way thoughts refer from the way names and descriptions do? And how does this notion of intentionality apply to the senses? When we see or touch something, does our mind also “refer” to what we see or touch, in the same way as does thought? What unifies the notion of intentionality and governs its range of application?
One way of bringing the senses under the “intentionality” umbrella, while suggesting what’s special about mental directedness, focuses on phenomena of perceptual constancy. This plays an important role in the conception of intentionality in Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology. It also figures, in a rather different way, in Tyler Burge’s 2010 conception of what it is for the senses to represent objects. We perceive things as constant with respect to some determinable (such as shape, color, or size), through fluctuation in (a) the subjective experience of them with respect to this determinable, and (b) the corresponding pattern of proximal (e.g., retinal) stimulation from them. Husserl takes the (a) type constancy-though-flux to show perceptual experience is directed at or refers to objects that go beyond (or “transcend”) it, while Burge takes the (b) sort of constancy to show perceptual states are representations of an objective realm.
However, these approaches seem tailored to the senses, and one will wonder how to apply “intentionality” univocally to both sense perception and thought. One peculiarity that may encompass the directedness/aboutness/of-ness/reference of both sense experience and thought (while covering desire and imagination as well): they all may seemingly relate (“purport to point”) to objects that do not exist. Thoughts, unlike roads, can direct you to a city that is not there. One can think about a meeting that has not occurred and never will; one can think of Shangri La, or El Dorado, or the New Jerusalem; one may imagine their shining streets, their total lack of poverty, or their citizens’ peculiar garb; one may long to live in them. Likewise, when one hallucinates, one can experience what is not there to be seen. Maybe this suggests a unifying way to identify the relevant sort of directedness.
But this invites new perplexities. Are we to say (with apparent incoherence) that there are objects we think of that don’t exist? And what does it mean to say that, when a state of mind is in fact directed toward something that does exist, that state nevertheless could be directed toward something that does not exist? For instance, should we agree that there is some experiential “common factor” in perception and hallucination? This has been much disputed by “disjunctivist” philosophers of perception, who would insist that perceptual experience, in the non-hallucinatory “good” case, is fundamentally relational. When there is a snake you see, your experience is a relation between you and that snake, and could not occur at all without it—any more than could stepping on it. This is not so if you experience a hallucination of a snake, even when you cannot subjectively discriminate such experience from the “good” kind. If this is right, then it is hard to see how we could get a notion of intentionality to cover both cases, as long as this is understood as some kind of reference to what might not exist. It can well be fundamental to the nature of mind that its states can be of or about things or “point beyond themselves”. But getting a satisfactory grasp of such mental pointing in all its generality presents theoretical challenges.
A second approach to intentionality may start from the idea that the potential reference to the non-existent just discussed is closely associated with the potential for falsehood, error, inaccuracy, illusion, hallucination, and dissatisfaction. What makes it possible to believe (or even just suppose) something about Shangri La is that one can falsely believe (or suppose) that something exists. What makes it possible to seem to see or hear what is not there is that one’s experience may in various ways be inaccurate, or nonveridical. What makes it possible for one’s desires and intentions to be directed toward what does not and never will exist is that one’s desires and intentions can be unfulfilled. And each of these negative assessments contrasts with a positive one: truth, accuracy, veridicality, and fulfillment. This suggests another general strategy for gaining a theoretical hold on intentionality, employing a notion of satisfaction, stretched to encompass susceptibility to each of these forms of assessment. On John Searle’s (1983) conception, intentional states are states having “conditions of satisfaction”. For a belief, they are the conditions under which it is true; for sense-experience, they the conditions under which it is veridical; for an intention the conditions under which it is fulfilled or carried out.
A “conditions of satisfaction” approach to intentionality may seem to furnish an alternative to talk of directedness to objects. But it is not clear that it can get us around its problems. For instance, what are we to say where thoughts are expressed using names of nonexistent deities or fictional characters? Will we do away with a troublesome directedness to the nonexistent by saying that the thoughts that Zeus is Poseidon’s brother, and that Hamlet is a prince, are just false? This is problematic. Moreover, how will we state the conditions of satisfaction of such thoughts? Will this not also involve an apparent reference to the nonexistent? (For discussion of these issues, see Thomasson 1999 and Crane 2013.) And questions about the proper understanding of the relationship among perception, illusion and hallucination remain.
A third important way to conceive of intentionality, one particularly central to the analytic tradition derived from the study of Frege and Russell (see Section 4), is based on the notion of mental (or intentional) content. Often it is assumed: to have intentionality is to have content. But what is content? Here appeal is sometimes made to the idea of representation: a state has content insofar as it “represents something to be a certain way”, or else “tells” or “says” to one something about how the world is—where the notion of representing and the saying/telling metaphor are assumed to be intuitively clear enough to get things started.
Another way to see what is meant by “content” is to think of this as what is reported when answering the question, “What does she think?” by something of the form, “She thinks that p”. And one might regard the content of thought as what two people share, when what they think is the same (and they think the same thought)—and it’s what differs when what they think is different. Analogous remarks apply to belief and intention. (Though it is not quite as clear that when we speak of what one perceives, this is to be understood in just the same way.) Content is also what may vary independently of the “psychological modes” of states of mind in ways illustrated by saying: Believing that I’ll soon be bald and fearing that I’ll soon be bald differ in mode, but share the content: that I’ll soon be bald, while each differ in content from believing and fearing that I’ll soon be dead. (One may also wish to treat perception as a “mode” alongside believing, fearing, etc.)
Differences in the content of mental states are also commonly thought to be revealed by certain logical features of sentences we use to report them. Reports of thoughts or beliefs and other intentional states (like intention, hope, fear) often do not seem to retain their truth value when co-extensive expressions are substituted in “that-clauses”. For example: “Barack Obama” and “the 44th president of the United States” are co-extensive or co-referential. And if it’s true that Barack Obama was born in Hawai‘i, it’s true that the 44th U.S President was. Even so, Sam can think that Barack Obama was born in Hawai‘i without thinking that the 44th U.S President was. It seems plausible that this “failure of substitutivity” reflects the fact that just what Sam might be said to think—the “contents” of his thoughts—differ in such a case. Or, as it is sometimes said, intentional states relate to the conditions that would satisfy them, or to what they are about, only “under some aspects” and not others—and differences in the “aspect under which” are differences in content. (Searle speaks here of the “aspectual shape” of intentional states.)
This raises the question of just how a “possession of content” conception of intentionality may be coordinated with the conditions of satisfaction conception. It is sometimes assumed that if states of mind contrast in respect of their satisfaction (say, one is true and the other false), they differ in content. And if one says what the intentional content of a state of mind is, one says much or perhaps all of what conditions must be met if it is to be satisfied—what its conditions of truth, or veridicality, or fulfillment, are. But one might also hold that content only determines satisfaction conditions relative to context. This seems especially plausible when we consider thoughts expressed with indexicals or demonstratives. (When I think, on multiple occasions, of multiple objects, this is F, what makes what I think true may differ with context, but what I think of each this (and how I think of it) on each such occasion may be just the same.) And we may allow that states differing “aspectually” can in some sense have the same conditions of satisfaction. This, and related issues, have given rise to diverse interpretations of the notion of content, and the term has often been alleged to be ambiguous or in need of subtle theoretical refinement. Consider, inter alia: Edward Zalta’s 1988 distinction between cognitive and objective content; Jerry Fodor’s (1991) defense of a distinction between narrow and wide content; John Perry’s (2001) distinction between reflexive and subject-matter content); and David Chalmers’ (1996, 2010) two-dimensional conception of content.
Talk of content clearly has some intuitive basis. We can talk about what someone thinks (believes, intends, doubts, etc.) and regard this “what” as remaining the same on multiple cases, with multiple subjects: this we may call the content of thought (belief, intention, doubt). But once we raise questions about just what this repeatable “what is thought” amounts to, and what makes it the same or different, “content” becomes a highly contentious theoretical term. It can be unclear what assumptions lie behind its use by various philosophers, and whether they have the same sort of thing in mind.
Each of the gates of entry into the topic of intentionality identified above—directedness; conditions of satisfaction; content—arguably opens onto a unitary phenomenon. And some of the connections among them have been hinted at. But there is a fair amount of fragmentation in the conceptions of intentionality in the field, and the complexities just mentioned cannot be ignored. Perhaps the term “intentionality” only roughly indicates an area of inquiry, covering a variety of interestingly (but uncertainly) interrelated phenomena of thought, belief, desire, imagination, perception, and symbol use. Here, in any case, we leave much open about how to interpret the notion, in the interests of conducting a broadly inclusive survey that aims to illuminate different ways in which what “intentionality” is used to pick out has been related to consciousness. In the interests of such ecumenical breadth, it will be useful to conduct an overview of the near history of thinking about intentionality, covering important ideas arising both in the phenomenological tradition from the late 19th to mid-20th century, and in the area of research that in the last half century or so has come to be known as philosophy of mind.
In telling this story, we have to acknowledge (and traverse) the divide in twentieth century western philosophy between so-called “analytic” and “continental” traditions. This distinction is misleading however, partly because the tendency to categorize phenomenologists en masse as “continental” wrongly suggests they are all somehow more like all others placed in that class than they are like anyone in the (also wildly heterogeneous) group of “analytic philosophers”. Nevertheless, the history of influence and dialogue linking figures in the phenomenological movement with one another, and that unifying the analytic tradition, yield largely distinct narratives. This, together with the differences in approach, vocabulary, and background assumptions, make some disjoint treatment of the two inevitable. However, it seems fitting to try to encompass both in a single article. For, as will be seen, there are significant thematic commonalities across the two histories, and the differences and similarities in how these themes are treated in each may be revealing and intellectually stimulating.
3. Consciousness and Intentionality in Phenomenology
A history of ideas about consciousness and intentionality could easily take us further into the past than this article can cover. A convenient, relatively recent starting point would be in the philosophy of Franz Brentano. He more than any other single thinker is responsible for keeping the term “intentional” alive in philosophical discussions of the last century and a half or so, with something like its current use, and was much concerned with its relationship to consciousness (Brentano  1973). Brentano himself was quite aware of the deep historical background to his notion of intentionality: he looked back through scholastic discussions (crucial to the development of Descartes’ immensely influential theory of ideas), and ultimately to Aristotle for his theme of intentionality (Brentano  1977). One may well go further back, to Plato’s discussion (in the Sophist, and the Theaetetus) of difficulties in making sense of false belief, and yet further still, to the dawn of Western Philosophy, and Parmenides’ attempt to draw enormous consequences from allegedly finding that it is not possible to think or speak of what is not. In this section, we will review how Brentano conceived of intentionality and consciousness, and their relationship, and how that conception was transformed in the thought of his student Husserl—whose name is that most strongly associated with the phenomenological movement—and in the writings of some of those he strongly influenced. This will allow us to introduce the three themes mentioned in the introduction—detachability, basic forms, and reflexivity—by which one might unify the disparate discussions of consciousness and intentionality arising over roughly the last century.
For Brentano, initially at least, what seems crucial to intentionality is the mind’s capacity to refer or be directed to objects that may exist only in mind—what he called “mental or intentional inexistence”. In a famous passage, he introduces the notion this way.
Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference [or relation] to a content, direction toward an object (which is not to be understood as a reality), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not all do so in the same way. In presentation something is presented, in judgment something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on. (Brentano  1973: 88)
It is not straightforward just what Brentano meant by saying mental phenomena include objects within themselves, or that an immanent object of mentation is not assumed to be “a reality”. He complained of being misunderstood by his students, and he revised his position as his thought developed. Experts continue to differ considerably over how to interpret his view. But clearly his conception of intentionality, and arguably that of the whole phenomenological tradition he influenced, is dominated by the first strand of thought mentioned in Section 2—intentionality as directedness towards or reference to an object—and whatever difficulties that brings in train.
More clearly worked out than Brentano’s early, general notion of intentionality are his views about what he took to be its most basic forms (alluded to in the quote above). Brentano’s philosophical project of giving a typology of intentional states, their constituents and interdependencies—what he called “descriptive psychology”—was ambitiously aimed at providing a framework for experimental inquiries into causal psychological laws, as well as for logic (including theory of knowledge), aesthetics, and ethics.
All intentionality, he holds, involves a presentation (Vorstellung) (in some sense, an appearance) of an object (including mere imaginings or conceivings of objects). To this neutral mere appearance of an object one may then add a committal attitude towards it—of either judgment or “emotion” (Gemüt)—each of which takes positive and negative forms. In judgment: one either affirms (accepts) or denies (rejects) the presented object. In Gemüt, one either likes (loves or values) or dislikes (hates or disvalues) it. The mere affirmation (or liking) of an object presented does not require categorizing it under a general concept, grouping it together with like instances, or anything on the order of Kantian “synthesis”.
How did Brentano relate consciousness to intentionality? He did so by holding first, that every mental phenomenon is “of an object” in the intentional sense. Secondly, he held that every mental act is, in fact, conscious, which he took to imply there is an intentional consciousness of it, which in turn he construed as a kind of “inner perception”—every conscious mental act is itself presented, and judged (accepted) as presented. Brentano did not consider it absurd to suppose there are unconscious (for him, unperceived) mental acts. But he found inadequate such reasons as had been offered in his time to posit their occurrence. On his view, wherever this is proposed on the grounds of explanatory usefulness, nonmentalistic (e.g., physiological) explanations would do as well. In this connection, he also took seriously the worry that if we hold (as he does) that all mental acts are conscious, and all conscious acts are objects of consciousness, an infinite regress would erupt. But he thought his theory could handle the problem: the key was to see that, since inner perception is not separate from the object it makes conscious, no regress gets started.
Brentano’s lectures in Vienna attracted and inspired an impressive, diverse group of central European intellectuals in the 1870s. Of these, it was Husserl who was to have the widest philosophical impact on the European Continent in the twentieth century, largely because of his influence on thinkers inspired by his phenomenology to explore existentialist themes—Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Though these are the heirs of Brentano and Husserl on which we will focus here, a full treatment of phenomenological ideas about intentionality and consciousness would need to cast its net much more broadly, covering figures such as: Aron Gurwitsch, Roman Ingarden, Anton Marty, Alexius Meinong, Adolph Reinach, Max Scheler, Edith Stein, Carl Stumpf and Kasimir Twardowski.
Husserl ( 1970) adopted Brentano’s concern with understanding, “descriptively”, from the subject’s point of view, how experience is object-directed, reinterpreting Brentano’s “descriptive psychology” as “phenomenology”, and giving this a similar foundational role in philosophy. However, Husserl’s basic conceptions of both intentionality and of consciousness were significantly shaped by his criticisms of Brentano’s. First, consider his response to Brentano on intentionality. One of Husserl’s principal points of departure in his early treatment of intentionality (in the Logical Investigations  1970, V §§ 9–11, 14) was criticism of what he—controversially—took to be Brentano’s notion of the “mental inexistence” of the objects of thought and perception. Husserl thought it a fundamental error to suppose that the object (the intentional object) of a thought, judgment, desire, etc. is something with a special kind of being in the mind of the thinker, judger, or desirer. For we should recognize that objects of one’s mental acts of thinking, judging, etc. often are or can be ordinary objects that “transcend”, and enjoy some sort of independence from the acts (states of mind) that are directed towards them (that “intend” them, in Husserl’s terms). At least if I am not hallucinating, the object of my visual experience is not something immanent to my mind, whose existence comes and goes with the experience—but something (a box, for example) that goes beyond or transcends any (necessarily perspectival) experience I may have of it, as relative position, lighting, or attention alters. This conception of the “objective reference” of sense experience is grounded in a phenomenology of perceptual constancy, mentioned earlier in comparison with Burge.
But how about a case in which there is no transcendent object targeted by one’s experience, and it merely seems as if there is one, as presumably can occur in hallucination? Here we should say, on Husserl’s view, not that there is an object of reference existing in one’s mind, but that the object intended simply does not exist. This does not do away with the directedness of such experience, since it is still true to say one’s experience is of something (a snake, a dagger), even though there exists no snake or dagger one then sees—much as it may be true to say one is thinking of a golden mountain, or Zeus, though there exists no such mountain or god to think of. For (according to the Logical InvestigationsV §§ 16–17, 20) it is sufficient to make such “conscious of” statements true that the experience have some “matter”—where the matter of a mental act corresponds to what, through it, something is interpreted as. This factor—matter as “interpretive sense”—may vary among acts with the same object (in Husserl’s example, one may think of one and the same object (the Kaiser) either as the grandson of Queen Victoria or as the son of Friedrich III). It also may vary independently of what he called “act-quality”—of whether, e.g., one judges, or doubts, or wonders, or hopes, or imagines, or perceives. Husserl held that every intentional act must have both matter and quality. Post-Investigations, he came to re-interpret these notions in terms of what he called (in Ideas  1983) the “noema” that can be common to distinct particular acts. But this much of the basic picture seems to have survived: intentional directedness is understood not as a directedness to special (“in mind”) objects, but rather as the possession by mental acts of matter/quality (or later, noematic) structure. This can be considered a version of the content conception of intentionality described in Section 2, insofar as Husserl would accept that, in some sense, the matter of an act (later, its “noematic sense”) is the same as its content, that content goes with differences in “aspect”, and that acts can have content even when there exists no object to which they refer.
However, to say only this much leaves basic questions about Husserl’s view unsettled. One concerns whether or in what sense perceptual experience ever constitutes a relation to the object experienced. Here we encounter the first of the three big themes announced at the outset: the question of the “detachability” of either consciousness or intentionality from “external” “worldly” objects. In what way, if any, is the conscious subject with its intentionality in essence intelligible apart from objects in the world it inhabits?
Clearly Husserl thought that a hallucination would still be intentional, though there exists no object of the experience (mentally immanent or otherwise) to which it relates the subject. Still, this leaves open whether, for Husserl, in non-hallucinatory cases—when there really is a snake you see—the matter/noematic sense (thus content) of the experience properly contains the experience-transcending object the experience is of, so that the experience is essentially a relation to (e.g.,) this very writhing, flesh-and-blood creature that can strike and bite you. On this interpretation, if instead you have a subjectively indistinguishable snake-hallucination, you may have what is in other respects the same noema, minus the snake constituent. Alternatively, we may interpret Husserl to hold that the experience itself, along with its entire matter or noematic sense, is always essentially detachable from whatever “external object” it is of. (For discussion, see Crowell 2013; Drummond 1990; A.D. Smith 2008; D.W. Smith 2007; Zahavi 2003.)
Interpretations of Husserl diverge, partly due to difficulties in being clear about how to interpret his shift from the “quality/matter” to the “noema” terminology, his immanent/transcendent contrast, and a closely associated aspect of his philosophy—one to which he attached great importance—his method of “transcendental-phenomenological reduction”. Husserl claimed it is possible (and, indeed, essential to the practice of phenomenology as an a priori discipline, distinct from psychology) that one investigate consciousness in a way that withholds certain commitments concerning spatio-temporal particulars. Husserl held that what makes the relevant suspension of commitment possible is that, given the essentially perspectival (in his terms, the evidentially incomplete or “inadequate”) nature of perceptual experience of an object, in no case does anything subjectively evident about the actual course of your experience of an F as such completely rule out the possibility that there was in fact no transcendent object, then experienced as an F. (Ideas  1983 §§ 42–50.) On one interpretation of his methodological “bracketing”, Husserl infers that intentional experience is always in essence detachable from any such worldly (“external”) objects to which it is in fact directed.
However, on other, “externalist” –or perhaps better, “relationalist”—interpretations, Husserl didn’t deny experience is (sometimes) essentially a relation to experience-transcending objects, or that its contents include these as constituents. The methodological aim is just to restrict the scope of concern with these objects (and hence the relevant evidence) proper to phenomenology: one considers them specifically only as intended (i.e., as interpreted) in whatever kind of experience is under investigation. To this end it is unnecessary to embrace an ontology of experiences that says they could always remain essentially the same, even when detached from such objects altogether.
Another complication concerns just how Husserl would view the general relationship between content in his sense (either act-matter or noematic sense) and such semantic correlates of ordinary language sentences—“propositions”—that some would identify with the contents of states of mind reported in them. Relevant here are Husserl’s discussions in Logical Investigation VI of the relationship between the intentionality of perception and judgment. Husserl maintains that perception allows us to express judgments with demonstratives like “this” (what he called “essentially occasional” terms) via non-conceptual, “non-attributive” senses, and that experiencing features in things perceived (e.g., experiencing the color or form in an object), is distinct from and underlies our capacity to predicate the relevant features to them. (See Mulligan 1995 and Hopp 2011 for discussion of relevant issues.) Important here too is Husserl’s discussion in Experience and Judgment  1973 of what he called “pre-predicative” experience. Husserl holds that the sort of judgments we express in ordinary and scientific language are founded on the intentionality of pre-predicative experience, and that it is crucial to clarify the way in which such experience underlies judgment. While Husserl rejected Brentano’s general conception of judgment as the non-predicative affirmation of objects presented, he endorsed the related idea that there is a form of intentionality, found in perception, distinct from—and making possible—that in which we bring objects under general concepts. Here we encounter in Husserl the second of the initially announced themes—that of basic forms of consciousness or intentionality.
It is disputed how significantly the most well-known philosophers strongly influenced by their study of Husserl—Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty—depart from him in their views. Partly this is due to interpretive difficulties just mentioned (regarding the detachability of experience from experience-transcending objects, and the basic forms of intentionality or content). First, regarding relationality and reduction: on the views of Heidegger ( 1962, 1982, 1985) and Merleau-Ponty ( 2012) at least, intentionality (or as Heidegger prefers, Verhaltung—“comportment”) essentially involves an engagement with the world that cannot be cancelled by any abstention from judgment. If Husserl’s reduction denies this, then their responses to Husserl involve a significant break with him. But as we’ve seen, interpretation of the reduction is controversial. An additional complication comes when we try to consider exactly how attitudes towards consciousness figure into all this. If, as one interpretive approach suggests, Husserl holds consciousness (or rather, experience of the sort ordinarily involved in perceptual constancy) is intrinsically both relational and intentional, then the sort of consciousness we enjoy will be no more detachable in nature from its transcendent objects than is our intentionality. What Heidegger would have to say to this will depend partly on what exactly we make of his abandoning the terminology of consciousness for his distinctive vocabulary of “showing” and “unconcealment/discovery”. Might we regard him as still speaking of consciousness, but only by other, allegedly less theory-burdened names? Or should we interpret Heidegger (in line with Crowell 2013) as maintaining (against Husserl) that consciousness by itself (even of the ordinary sort we enjoy) is insufficient for comportment/intentionality? How we decide to view this will undoubtedly be entangled with how we ourselves understand “consciousness”.
Sartre’s ( 1956) conception of consciousness as nothing apart from its objects can also be interpreted as a relationalist view (see McCollough 1994). And in Merleau-Ponty at least, we clearly have a version of what has since come to be known as “disjunctivism” regarding perceptual experience: for him the visual consciousness of an ashtray (his example) is either genuinely seeing the ashtray—or else (in illusory and hallucinatory cases) merely like seeing an ashtray. In the first case there is no concrete experience that would remain once the ashtray is subtracted in thought, so as to constitute an ashtray hallucination. On Merleau-Ponty’s account, ordinarily, when you see an ashtray (a chair, a tree, etc.), your visual experience is both intentional and object-dependent. Our understanding of defective, illusory and hallucinatory cases rests on an analogy with ordinary cases of visual consciousness understood in an essentially relational manner. This does not keep him from agreeing with Husserl that, given the perspectivalness of perception, there’s a sense in which one can never, in a particular case, rule out the possibility that one’s experience wasn’t relational after all. But this doesn’t make it intelligible that all one’s experience is non-relational, or make rational a global Cartesian doubt that it ever reveals the world. (Merleau-Ponty  2012: 308–311, 359–360, 393–396)
When it comes to the question of whether ordinary perception and action involve a kind of intentionality distinct from that of conceptual judgment, it seems fair to say this about Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. They took up the theme of an intentionality that is distinct from and makes possible the kind involved in judgments that posit and predicate properties of objects, and they gave this, each in his own way, a strongly pragmatic cast. Heidegger describes a type of understanding of entities in which they “show themselves” or are “discovered” as “ready-to-hand” or “available” (zuhanden)—in which they are understood in their functionality (as hammers, as doors, as pens, etc.) relative to our aims: we understand them in using them for something. This is a kind of directedness that belongs to our everyday practical engagement with our surroundings. He sees this as distinct from, and making possible an understanding of entities in which they show themselves as “present-at-hand” or (merely) “occurrent” (vorhanden)—as they do when we understand them in a more detached or theoretical way, merely as objects that possess certain properties (Heidegger  1962, 1982). (For a general account of Heidegger’s taxonomy of understanding, sensitive to recent interpretive controversies, see Wrathall 2013a.) Merleau-Ponty  2012 developed a related view, influenced not only by both Husserl and Heidegger, but by his study of Gestalt psychologists (who were themselves influenced by the Brentano school and by Husserl), in which he defends a conception of perceptual consciousness as a kind of bodily understanding. Partly on the basis of contrasts drawn with case studies of pathologies of perception and action due to brain damage, he argues that, in normal sensory perception, our exploratory and goal-directed movement itself constitutes a way of being conscious of things—and a form of understanding what is perceived—not derived from activities of conceptual categorization and inference (which belong properly to the intellect). Relatedly for Merleau-Ponty: the organization and adjustment of movements involved in bodily understanding, though norm-guided, and experienced, must not be regarded as always chosen— your moves are objects of personal choice only when specifically endorsed for reasons.
This may convey some central aspects of phenomenological conceptions of intentionality and its relation to consciousness. But what can be said about the general nature of consciousness? How did conceptions of this develop in the wake of Brentano? Here too it is useful to see how Husserl’s views emerged from criticism of Brentano’s—in particular from rejection of the latter’s inner perception account of consciousness. And here we can see how the third of the initially identified themes—that of reflexivity, the relation of consciousness and self-consciousness—became elaborated in phenomenology.
Husserl held that for a mental state to be conscious is for it to be an experience (Erlebnis), a part of some “stream of consciousness”. Experiences in this stream of consciousness sense include, for Husserl, “perceptions, imaginative and pictorial representations, acts of conceptual thinking, surmises and doubts, joys and griefs, hopes and fears, wishes and acts of will”. (For the clarification of his concept of consciousness from which this is quoted, see Husserl  1970, V §§1–6.) An experience in this sense is necessarily experienced (erlebt). But, contra Brentano, this does not mean that experiences continually appear as objects of some inner perception. (When, for example, a sensation is felt, the sensation is not some object of which the feeling is an appearance; the sensation simply coincides with feeling it.) Husserl did, however, affirm that some kind of reflexivity is essential to consciousness. Crucial to this view was a certain conception of time-consciousness (Husserl 1991). Husserl argues that, distinct from any capacity for memory directed on an object in the past, in which you recall what experience you just had, there is a sort of “retention” of what has just happened in your experience (e.g., what you just heard in a melody or in a phrase) that enables you to perceive temporally extended wholes. Likewise, more basic than any predictions about what lies in the future is an anticipation or “protention” of what you are about to experience. You are thus in a sense primitively conscious of your own experience in retaining and anticipating it, even though you do not thereby make it into an intentional object, as you do when, in reflection, you think and make judgments about your experience. Consciousness is, for Husserl, in this way necessarily reflexive without necessarily being reflective. A similar view, influenced by Husserl, is prominent in Sartre’s doctrine that “every consciousness is a non-positional consciousness of itself”. Though Sartre defends this idea on the somewhat different grounds that denying it would involve the (allegedly) absurd notion of a consciousness totally “ignorant of itself” (Sartre  1957,  1956).
One might, as Sartre did, distinguish the question of whether consciousness is somehow necessarily consciousness “of itself” without becoming “an object for itself” from another reflexivity question: is all consciousness essentially, in part, a consciousness of oneself—not “as object”, but “as subject”? Sartre answered this question in the negative. All consciousness (even “pre-reflective”) is self-conscious, but only when reflection occurs, and consciousness becomes (as commonly it is not) itself an intentional object, is there any consciousness of an ego. Husserl earlier, in the first edition of Logical Investigations, affirmed a similar view. However, he did not claim, as Sartre sometimes seems to, that pre-reflective experience is “non-egological” in the sense of being no one’s, or literally selfless, only that, phenomenologically, there are no grounds for regarding an ego as some unifying “center” of intentional relations. On this view, when I correctly say that (even pre-reflectively) an experience belongs to me, I have no phenomenological justification to think this means anything more than that this experience is a constituent in a certain unified complex—a certain stream of consciousness; I have no warrant to posit that the ego, the “me” to whom experience belongs, constitutes a persisting “unifier”. However, Husserl (as he announces in the second edition of the Logical Investigations) significantly revised his views, and held there to be a phenomenological case for the “transcendental ego”. Figuring centrally in this shift was his desire to recognize an aspect to experience through which one is active in making commitments (e.g., in judging something to be a certain way) that—qua personal commitments—necessarily involve a persisting “I”. There is a kind of consciousness of self in experience, which, while evident to phenomenological reflection, does not itself consist in reflectively attributing to oneself some property. (Husserl  1960 §§ 31–33)
We may now identify three distinct ideas found in phenomenological thinking about the alleged reflexivity of consciousness. First, there is the idea that necessarily, whenever there is a conscious state, there is, in some sense, consciousness of it. Second, one finds the notion that it is, however, only occasionally, and only in reflection, that a conscious state is simultaneously an intentional object for the one whose state it is. Third, there is the claim that one’s conscious states ordinarily somehow include a non-reflective consciousness of oneself—though not as intentional object, but “as subject”.
With these distinctions in mind, we can see that to speak of the phenomenological view of these matters risks eliding significant differences. For philosophers in this tradition differed interestingly with respect to the three theses just named. Brentano would maintain the first, deny the second, and seems to have been silent on the third. Husserl, however, (eventually) affirmed all three—with the first two importantly grounded in a view of time-consciousness, and the third in the idea that we experience ourselves as active understanding subjects. Sartre, meanwhile, affirms only the first two theses, and embraces the second on different grounds from Husserl. One may attribute some version of the second and third ideas to Heidegger, since he says that when things in our surroundings show themselves to us (or are “uncovered”) through our dealings with them, we are also thereby non-reflectively “disclosed” to ourselves: what we are is disclosed to us through our use of things as we engage in our everyday projects (Heidegger 1982 §15b). This may be taken to commit Heidegger also to the idea that consciousness involves some kind of reflexive, but non-reflective, consciousness of self as subject. But it does so only on the assumption that, when something is uncovered to me in my use of it, I experience it or am somehow conscious of it, and that, in being disclosed to myself though my activity, I am somehow self-conscious. But that interpretation would be resisted by those who regard it as crucial to seeing what makes Heidegger differ from Husserl that we take him to deny we are ordinarily conscious of things in dealing with them (see Dreyfus 1991; Kaüfer and Chemero 2015). Again, these interpretive matters seem closely tied to one’s own assumptions about the notion of consciousness. At least we might say Heidegger’s view’s about uncoveredness and self-disclosure gives him something strongly analogous to the third idea about consciousness. In any case, it is crucial to recognize this peculiarity of his account: unlike Husserl, Heidegger links such basic reflexivity (self-disclosure) to the notion of an inescapable, everyday “inauthentic” or conventional self-understanding, to be contrasted with an authentic form that can emerge from this in a kind of (“Angst”-triggered) crisis of meaningfulness. As for the first of the three reflexivity ideas (all consciousness is “of itself”), it is unclear Heidegger endorses (or even mentions) it at all. However, notably, Sartre bases his own quasi-Heideggerean interpretation of authenticity in Being and Nothingness on his way of combining this with the second notion.
All three notions are endorsed in Merleau-Ponty. But in his account (perhaps somewhat like Heidegger’s) the second (non-reflectiveness) and third (experienced self-as-subject) seem to carry far more weight. For Merleau-Ponty understanding oneself as subject connects importantly with his notion of consciousness as embodied understanding: in perceiving, one experiences one’s own body as subject of a distinctively sensorimotor form of understanding, manifest in normatively guided responses that are not analyzable as personal choices made for reasons. (For discussion of phenomenologists’ views about consciousness and its relation to self-consciousness that assimilates them much more than does the present one, see Zahavi 1998, 2005, 2014. For further discussion specifically of Brentano’s views on this topic: Kriegel forthcoming, Textor 2012, and Thomasson 2000. For Heidegger, see Blattner 2013 and Crowell 2013. For Merleau-Ponty: Siewert 2013a.)
This overview of consciousness and intentionality in the Brentano-Husserl tradition brings to light several broad areas of discussion. Closely related to general concerns about how to interpret either of these two notions, three interrelated themes have emerged. One concerns whether intentionality or consciousness are detachable from one’s relation to the world and things within it. A second concerns how to distinguish basic forms of consciousness and intentionality—and in particular whether, distinct from the activity of the intellect or of a properly conceptual understanding, we should recognize something equally intentional on which it based, manifest in perception and action. Finally, there is the theme of the reflexivity of consciousness: is consciousness somehow essentially bound up with a kind of self-consciousness—either consciousness of itself, or of the self (as subject)? As we shall see, these themes have become important—somewhat later, and largely independently—in analytic philosophy.
4. Intentionality and the Analytic Heritage
The late nineteenth/early twentieth century heritage of most analytic treatments of intentionality (or mental representation or content) lies most significantly not in the writings of Brentano, Husserl and their direct intellectual descendants, but in the seminal discussions of logico-linguistic concerns in Gottlob Frege’s ( 1952) “On Sense and Reference”, and Bertrand Russell’s (1905) “On Denoting”, widely considered defining documents of the analytic tradition. But Frege’s and Russell’s work comes from much the same era and intellectual milieu as Brentano’s and the early Husserl’s. And certain points of contact have long been recognized: Russell’s discussion of Meinong’s theory of objects; Chisholm’s and Quine’s discussion of what they took to be “Brentano’s thesis”; and the similarities between Husserl’s meaning/object distinction (in Logical Investigation I) and Frege’s (prior) sense/reference distinction. Indeed the case has been influentially (though controversially) made (by Føllesdal 1969, 1990) that Husserl’s meaning/object distinction is borrowed from Frege (though with a change in terminology) and that Husserl’s “noema” is properly interpreted as having the characteristics of Fregean sense.
However, in comparing phenomenological treatments of intentionality to those found in the analytic tradition the following should be kept in mind. What Husserl (like Brentano) sought was to characterize general features of intentional experience from the subject’s point of view. Accordingly, his conception of intentionality is fundamentally rooted in reflections on: object-constancy in perceptual experience; contrasts between the ostensible objects of paradigm intentional experiences with these objects “as intended” (i.e., how and “as what” they are intended); and the idea that experience (whether perceptual, imaginative, or conceptual) can somehow continue to be “of” something, even when it is without genuine relation to an object. Thus, in the phenomenological tradition, the discussion of intentionality is thoroughly enmeshed with that of experience or consciousness from the start. On the other hand, those of Frege’s and Russell’s writings most influential for discussions of intentionality concentrate on issues that grow from their achievements in logic, and gave rise to ways of understanding mental states largely through questions about the language used to report them. Moreover, for other reasons, during much of the twentieth century, analytic philosophy often dissociated consciousness (understood largely or entirely in sensory terms) from aspects of the mind connected with intentionality. Thus our treatment of intentionality in this section will leave the concept of consciousness largely in the background. It will, nonetheless, reemerge explicitly in Section 5, when we see discuss how consciousness and intentionality were separated, and then reunited in analytic philosophy.
Central to Frege’s legacy for discussions of mental or intentional content has been his distinction between sense (Sinn) and reference (Bedeutung), and his use of this distinction to cope with the apparent failures of substitutivity of (ordinarily) co-referential expressions in contexts created by psychological verbs, of the sort mentioned in Section 2. In Frege’s famous example: you may understand the expressions “The Morning Star” and “The Evening Star” and use them to refer to what is one and the same object—the planet Venus. But this is not sufficient for you to know that the Morning Star is identical with the Evening Star. For the ways in which an object (the “reference”) is “given” to your mind when you employ these expressions (the senses or Sinne you grasp when you use them) may differ in such a manner that ignorance of astronomy would prevent your realizing that they are but two ways in which the same object can be given.
While Frege did not himself elaborate a general account of intentionality, what he says suggests the following picture. Intentional states of mind—thinking about Venus, wishing to visit it—involve some special relation (such as “grasping”)—not to a Venus “in one’s mind”, nor to an image of Venus, but to an abstract entity, a thought, which also constitutes the sense of a linguistic expression that can be used to report one’s state of mind, a sense that is grasped or understood by speakers who use it.
This style of account, together with the Fregean thesis that “sense determines reference”, and the history of criticisms both have elicited, provide a significant part of the background of contemporary discussions of mental content. It is often assumed, with Frege, that we must recognize that thoughts or contents cannot consist in images or essentially private “ideas”. But philosophers have frequently criticized Frege’s view of thought as some abstract entity “grasped” or “present to” the mind, and have wanted to replace Frege’s unanalyzed grasping of abstract entities with something more “naturalistic”, or at any rate more explanatory of what is involved in thinking.
Reaction to the Fregean picture has determined the character of analytic discussions of intentionality or content in another major way. It may be granted that the content of the thought reported is to be identified with the sense of the expression with which we report it. But then, it is argued, the identity of this content will not be determined individualistically, and may in some respects lie beyond the grasp (or not be fully “present to” the mind) of the psychological subject. For what determines the reference of an expression may be a natural causal relation to the world—as Saul Kripke (1972) and Hilary Putnam (1975) have argued is true for proper names, like “Nixon” and “Cicero”, and “natural kind” terms like “gold” and “water”. And (as Tyler Burge (1979) has argued) a speaker who, considered individually, remains qualitatively the same, may nevertheless assert something different simply because of a variation in the linguistic community to which she belongs. (For example, what her utterance of “arthritis” means is determined not by what is “in her head”, but by the medical experts in her community. If their usage were to shift, so would the meaning of her assertions, independently of any internal change in her.) Now if reference and truth conditions of expressions by which one’s thought is reported or expressed are not determined by what is in one’s head, and the content of one’s thought determines their reference and truth conditions, then the content of one’s thought is also not determined individualistically. Rather it is necessarily bound up with one’s causal relations to certain natural substances, and one’s membership in a certain linguistic community. Both linguistic meaning and mental contents are “externally” determined.
The development of externalist conceptions of intentionality informs the reception of Russell’s legacy in contemporary philosophy of mind as well. Russell also helped to put in play a conception of the intentionality of mental states, according to which each such state is seen as involving the individual’s “acquaintance with a proposition” (counterpart to Fregean “grasping”)—which proposition is at once both what is understood in understanding expressions by which the state of mind is reported, and the content of the individual’s state of mind. Thus for many philosophers influenced by the Russellian heritage, intentional states are conceived of as attitudes towards propositions—propositional attitudes. Also importantly, Russell’s famous analysis of definite descriptions into phrases employing existential quantifiers and predicates underlay many subsequent philosophers’ rejection of any conception of intentionality (like Meinong’s) that sees in it a relation to non-existent objects. And, Russell’s treatment drew attention to cases of what he called “logically proper names” that apparently defy such analysis in descriptive terms (paradigmatically, the terms “this” and “that”), and which (he thought) thus must refer directly to objects. Reflection on such “demonstrative” and “indexical” (e.g., “I”, “here”, “now”) reference led some (Kaplan 1979; Perry 1977) to maintain that the content of our states of mind cannot always be constituted by Fregean senses but must be seen as consisting partly of public objects in the world outside our heads to which we refer, demonstratively, indexically—another source of support for an externalist view of mental content, hence, of intentionality.
Yet another important source of externalist proclivities in twentieth century philosophy lies in the thought that the meaningfulness of a speaker’s utterances depends on its potential intelligibility to hearers: language must be public—an idea that has found varying and influential expression in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, W.V.O. Quine, and Donald Davidson. This, coupled with the assumption that intentionality (or “thought” in the broad (Cartesian) sense) must be expressible in language, has led some to conclude that what determines the content of one’s mind must lie in the external conditions that enable others to attribute that content.
It would be appropriate here to note the emergence of another sort of externalism in philosophy of mind and cognitive science since the 1990s, distinct from the “content externalism” made prominent by Putnam and Burge, as strains of “embodied”, “embedded”, or “enactive”, theorizing about perception, cognition and action gained prominence. For instance, on the “extended mind” view advocated in Clark and Chalmers 1998, mental processes are not confined to representational activity inside one’s head—they encompass an embodied interaction with one’s environment—cognition (broadly construed) is not limited to the manipulations of internal representations, but extends to the use of things out in the world.
It should be noted here too that the movement from Frege and Russell toward externalist views of intentional content has been, and continues to be subject to serious detailed challenges, and has prompted development of alternative (sometimes avowedly internalist) accounts. (Consider, for example: Crane 1991, Farkas 2008, Ludwig 1996b, and Searle 1983.) And it is no easy matter even getting clear about the fundamental theses at issue—partly insofar as what it means to talk about what is “internal” to the subject, and just what is assumed about the notion of content, are often unclear. In fact, Brie Gertler (2012b) argues that the “internalism/externalism debate” is something of a mess, and there is ultimately no satisfactory univocal understanding of just what is under dispute.
One other aspect of the Frege-Russell tradition of theorizing about content that impinges on the consciousness/intentionality connection is this. If content is identified with the sense or the truth-condition determiners of the expressions used in the object-clause reporting intentional states of mind, it will seem natural (even if it’s not inevitable) to suppose that possession of mental content requires the possession of conceptual capacities of the sort involved in linguistic understanding—“grasping senses”. Here, however, another issue rears its head: is there not perhaps a form of sensory intentionality that does not require anything as distinctively intellectual or conceptual as is needed for the grasping of linguistic senses or propositions? (This would be a kind of intentionality that could be had by the pre-linguistic (e.g., babies) or by non-linguistic creatures (e.g., dogs).) Advocates of varying versions of the idea that there is a distinctively “non-conceptual” kind of content include Bermúdez (1998), Crane (1992), Evans (1982), Kelly (2001), Peacocke (1992), and Tye (1995). For “conceptualist” voices of opposition to this trend, see Brewer (2005), McDowell (1994), and Speaks (2005). A deep difficulty in assessing these debates lies in getting an acceptable conception of concepts (and of concept possession) to work with (see Wright 2015).
We can now see, in the analytic tradition, the emergence of themes similar to the “detachability” and “basic forms” themes identified in the connection with the phenomenological movement. Later we will discuss these parallels. For now, to round out the present historical sketch so as to inform such comparisons, we may note some of the factors seemingly important to the course discussion took in analytic philosophy. Though its approach to intentionality is historically rooted in Fregean and Russellian treatments of logic and language, developments during the twentieth century sketched above—various forms of externalism, along with opposition to allegedly over-intellectualized views of perceptual intentionality—came in conflict with this heritage to some extent. Among the sources of this shift, one might plausibly find: a disenchantment with early twentieth century conceptions of philosophy’s distinctive role (of, e.g., providing conceptual analyses, and solutions to logico-linguistic puzzles); aligned with this, an increasingly perceived need to support claims in philosophy with experimental science, especially as systematic, academic psychology grew more sophisticated and successful; and finally—relatedly—the belief that defending a scientific worldview requires defending an ontology typically described as “physicalist” against objections deemed to have unacceptably dualist implications. Such factors (and others) helped encourage philosophers in the analytic tradition to tie consciousness more closely to intentionality in ways that raised issues similar to those canvassed above in connection with phenomenology—though often from rather different motives.
5. Varieties of Intentionalism
One evidently fundamental division in views about the relationship of consciousness and intentionality separates those who think that consciousness—more specifically, the phenomenal character of the sort of experience we actually have—necessarily carries with it some kind of intentionality, and those who do not. We might call the former (as will be seen, quite varied group) “intentionalists” and the latter (following Horgan and Tienson 2002) “separatists”. Intentionalism, so characterized, can cover a wide variety of positions, partly because of potential variety in just how intentionality is conceived. Exactly what contrast is marked by “intentionalism vs. separatism” will depend heavily on one’s conception of intentionality.
Still, operating at first only with a broad and open notion of this contrast, perspectives reasonably regarded as separatist occupied the mainstream of much twentieth century analytic philosophy. According to an important (once predominant) view, consciousness is exhausted by non-intentional “qualia” or “raw feels”. Plausibly, the acceptance of this view owes much to the profound influence of Gilbert Ryle’s Concept of Mind (1949) in the development of analytic philosophy. As part of his argument against a Cartesian notion of mind as the site of hidden (“occult”) “ghostly” occurrences, Ryle contends that the stream of consciousness has nothing to do with what’s central to mind, since it contains only sensations and imagery that provide “no possibility of deciding whether the creature that had these was an animal or a human being; an idiot, a lunatic, or a sane man”—nothing of which it is appropriate to ask whether it is correct or incorrect, veridical or nonveridical. Also powerfully influential, in the same era and intellectual milieu, was Wittgenstein’s (1953) attack on the idea of understanding as an “inner process”, and his criticism of the notion that there could be a private language. Popularity of Wittgensteinian insistence on the need for public criteria of meaning could—and plausibly did—reinforce a Rylean belittlement of consciousness, on the assumption that consciousness, being something hidden or “inner”, could bring with it distinctions in understanding and intelligence only if meaning were something purely private—as it cannot be. At any rate, partly through the reception of Ryle and Wittgenstein in U.T. Place’s (1956) and J.J.C Smart’s (1959) influential brain-based materialist view about consciousness, the reduction of consciousness to sensation and sensory imagery became firmly implanted in philosophy of mind, since these writings did so much to set the terms of its debates.
Also influential, to similar effect, was the conception expressed in Wilfrid Sellars’ (1956) distinction between sentience (sensation) and sapience. Whereas the qualities of feelings involved in the former—mere sensations—require no cognitive sophistication and are readily attributable to brutes, the latter—involving awareness of, awareness that—requires that one have the right concepts, which cannot be guaranteed just by having sensations, but needs learning and inferential capacities (which Sellars believed come only with language). Richard Rorty (1979) was not alone in taking Sellars’ views to support a strict separation of the phenomenal and the intentional (see also Brandom 1994). Rorty’s appropriation of Sellars (blended with Quinean eliminativism) leads him to deny not just the importance, but even the reality of consciousness.
Externalist arguments (of the sort mentioned in Section 4) have also been taken to support the separation of the “qualitative” from meaning and content (hence the separation of consciousness from intentionality). For it has been sometimes assumed that the phenomenal character of one’s experience is “fixed internally”—i.e., it has no necessary relation to the nature of particular substances in one’s external environment or to one’s linguistic community. Thus if externalist arguments (like those of Putnam and Burge) show that neither meaning nor content is “in the head”, phenomenal consciousness cannot imply any intentionality or content. Putnam (1981) himself drew such a conclusion, and much like Ryle, took the stream of consciousness to comprise nothing more than sensations and images, which (recalling Frege) are to be set apart from thought and meaning. Without denying important differences in the views just mentioned, it seems reasonable to suppose that together they helped entrench in analytic philosophy a conception (sometimes welded to the term “qualia”) that confines consciousness, in the experiential/what it’s like sense, to sensations and sensory images—and thus segregates it from thought, concepts, and “propositional attitudes”—hence from intentionality.
Objections to this conception of sense-experience became increasingly common towards the end of the twentieth century, from diverse angles and motivations, in writings affirming a variety of intentionalist positions. But even before that, separatism was neither unambiguously embraced nor universal in analytic philosophy (consider Anscombe 1965). And an important explicit statement of broadly intentionalist views of perceptual experience can be found even in the early nineteen eighties (Searle’s 1983 Intentionality). One significant strain of intentionalism (quite unlike Searle’s) arising in the 1990s, combines acceptance of externalism about content with a rejection of internalism about phenomenal character. Thus Martin Davies (1997), Fred Dretske (1995), and Michael Tye (1995, 2002) argue that the phenomenal character of experience is also essentially determined by causal environmental connections. Pace Putnam, externalism about intentionality should not be taken to support separatism. Philosophers working from this perspective also characteristically limit what kind of intentionality they took to be inseparable from phenomenal character—to some extent preserving the Rylean, purely sensory stream of consciousness—but giving this a crucial intentionalist twist. One draws a distinction between two sorts of intentionality or mental representation, one of which is found in sensory states, the other in non-sensory cognition. One then maintains that only the former is entailed by or constitutive of phenomenal character. As alluded to earlier, Tye identifies phenomenal character with the non-conceptual, picture- or map-like representational content he attributes to perceptual states which are poised to affect belief.
Tye’s account also exemplifies two other features common to a number of externalist intentionalist views of consciousness that arose in the shadow of separatism. First, his view is, as we might put it, thoroughly “non-reflexivist” (in the sense introduced in Section 3): it finds essential to one’s conscious state neither a representation of that state (i.e., no higher-order or self-representation), nor any directedness/reference to that state, nor any self-consciousness (whether this be construed as consciousness of the state itself, or of the self whose state it is). Secondly, Tye’s intentionalism is of what we might call a reductive sort. That is to say, the claim is not merely that it follows from an experience’s having certain kinds of phenomenal character that it is intentional or has intentionality of some sort. The claim is that its being phenomenal, and having the character it does, comes as a necessary consequence of what kind of intentionality it has (or what kind of mental representation it is), where this type of intentionality/representation can be explained in terms that involve no primitive appeal to phenomenal character. Thus the idea is not just the minimal intentionalist one that some kinds of phenomenality entail some kinds of intentionality. The idea is that phenomenal character can be explained as nothing but—it can be explanatorily reduced to—a certain kind of intentionality or representation.
Such reductive intentionalism is significantly motivated by a metaphysical aim that has animated much analytic philosophy of mind: to say what mental states are in non-mentalistic, physical terms. Part of what inspires this goal is the thought that, if mind is real and efficacious, it must somehow be necessitated by the facts of nature that science reveals—a nature in itself fundamentally mindless. But how could there be such necessitation of the mental by the non-mental? Reductive intentionalism about consciousness offers the outline of an answer. Like the separatist, one starts from a general conception of intentionality (or mental representation) that does not assume consciousness, along with some idea about how such intentionality must arise in a world governed by the operation of certain non-intentional, natural-causal processes. Then, still without appeal to consciousness, one purports to identify a certain species of intentionality (in terms of its use, its sources, its content), whose presence purportedly guarantees the occurrence of experience with a certain phenomenal character. On such a reductive intentionalist perspective, separatist philosophers do no more than contain the problematic “inner”, “private”, “subjective” mind of the Cartesian legacy and mitigate its harm, by sequestering it in a zone—consciousness—from which understanding, intelligence, meaning, intentionality have been safely evacuated (as in the view suggested by Kim 2011). The problem will be fully resolved, only if, instead of merely shrinking and isolating consciousness, we find a way of entirely subsuming it in a conception of mental representation that owes nothing to it.
We have just focused on the emergence of a kind of intentionalism about consciousness that is not only reductive, but externalist, strongly restrictivist, and completely non-reflexivist. But we now need to make it clearer how intentionalist views can be advanced that depart significantly from that position along one or more of each of these dimensions. Consider first how an intentionalist might oppose both separatism and externalism. One might begin with a Cartesian thought experiment in which one conceives of one’s consciousness with all its subjective riches intact, though the spatial realm of nature is supposed a fiction. Or less radically, one may start with the science fiction scenario of a “brain in a vat”, whose artificially induced activity generates an extended history of sense experience that is indistinguishable—in its subjective, phenomenal character—from that of a subject with a human body moving about in the environment, as we believe ourselves to do. Again, if you assume an externalist view of intentionality, you may conclude that phenomenal character, being thus detachable from the external world, is also separable from (and insufficient for) intentionality. However, you might instead turn your guns in the opposite direction—against externalism. It may seem to you that the most intuitively plausible reading of the vat scenario would take the brain’s experience to be a global hallucination, something like a vivid, massively coherent dream, and so a systematically incorrect experience of where the subject of experience is and what is happening around it. And so, we should think the intentionality or representational character of such experience would survive its estrangement from the world, along with its phenomenal character. One may then infer that for at least some contents/kinds of intentionality or representation, the kind of causal tie between mind and world that, according to some externalisms, we need for fixing its intentional content, is not strictly necessary after all. This route to a non-externalist intentionalism about consciousness finds varying expression in, for example, Kriegel 2011, Horgan and Tienson 2002, Loar 2003, and Ludwig 1996b.)
Such a challenge to externalist intentionalism would clearly also challenge its strategy of reductionism. There are other ways to be an intentionalist and reject both. One approach (albeit still using radical thought experiments) would draw on the sort of “zombie” scenario whose metaphysical significance is explored in such sophisticated detail by Chalmers 1996: one conceives of a world type identical to our own in terms of basic physics (laws, distribution of particles and forces), but with consciousness left out. One might take the conceivability of such a world to give one reason to reject the externalist-intentionalist assumption that the right combination of natural, non-intentional, non-phenomenal facts metaphysically guarantees the presence of consciousness. And one might still combine this with the claim that certain forms of consciousness do guarantee some sort of intentionality. This sort of non-reductive intentionalist view would actually go beyond challenging externalist intentionalism about consciousness, to upset the metaphysical picture commonly motivating it. For this would be to reject the assumption that mind (conscious mind at least) is non-basic, in the sense of being a necessary upshot of certain non-mental facts.