Consciousness and Object

Searle's Concept of Intentionality

 

by Jan Regner

 

Contents:

1. Introduction

 

2. The Mental and the Physical

    2.1 Mental and Physical Phenomena

    2.2 Being Directed towards an Object

 

3. How the Mind Works

    3.1 Mind as a Part of Nature

    3.2 Consciousness

        3.2.1 Intentionality and Causation

        3.2.2 The Background of Intentionality and the Network

        3.2.3 Perception

    3.3 The Intentionality of Perception

        3.3.1 Visual Experiences and Mental (Re)presentations

        3.3.2 The Problem of "Seeing-as"

        3.3.3 Intentionality and Visual Experiences

        3.3.4. Visual Perception and Its Conditions

        3.3.5 Representationalism, Phenomenalism and Realism

        3.3.6 The Problem of Particularity

        3.3.7 Does Searle's concept lead to scepticism?

 

4. Conclusion

 

5. Bibliography

 


1. Introduction

What kinds of relationship are there between our consciousness and the real world? In what way do we perceive the world around us? Is there any thought in our mind, which is not directed towards an object? How does our mind work? One of the world's leading philosophers--John R. Searle--attempted to answer all these and other questions. Reading his books aroused my curiosity and provoked me to think.

Searle is known for his severe criticism of the dominant traditions in the study of mind, both {\it materialist\/} and {\it dualist\/}, and of the assertion that the mind is a computer program (so-called "Strong Artificial Intelligence"'). We may also recall his familiar argument called "the Chinese Room". All these topics would be worth of our attention, but it would go beyond the scope of this paper. That is why I would like to pass all these things over in silence and just present Searle's conception of Intentionality. Especially, I intend to deal with the Intentionality of perception--the primary theme of this paper.

The theory of Intentionality was founded when philosophers attempted to describe and solve the philosophical problem of specific 'quasi-relations' between consciousness and objects and the direction of our mind or language to the real world. I am referring to situations in which we say for instance: "A thinks about p'', "B maintains that q'', "X asks question if y'' and so on.

"Intentionality'' is a technical philosophical term which means being directed at, about or of objects. This term has a long history in philosophy. It is generally considered that the concept of Intentionality was originally used by scholastic philosophers in the Middle Ages, and then it was reintroduced into European philosophy by the Austrian philosopher Franz Brentano (1833-1917). Brentano is very often regarded as the creator of the concept of Intentionality. But it is clear that he did not believe he was original at all. As Caston pointed out: "He [Brentano] saw himself as belonging to a tradition reaching all the way back to Aristotle that recognized the 'directedness' of mental acts.[1] Today we know that Aristotle formulated explicitly the problem of Intentionality and also made a solution to it a requirement for any adequate concept of mind.[2]

Many other philosophers in history and nowadays were interested in Intentionality; such thinkers as Husserl, Meinong, Frege, Twardowski, Quine, Chisholm, Dennett and others. There was a lot of discussion among them, but it is not possible to occupy all these inspiring theories and controversies. Nevertheless, I intend to mention Brentano's concept in passing because he is at the beginning of the discussion, and therefore seems to be indispensable to understand Searle's thoughts. I also will touch upon Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations on the subject of perception and the arguments of the critics against Searle's concept.

 

2. The Mental and the Physical

It would be difficult to find a philosopher who had as large an influence on European philosophy of the Twentieth century as Brentano did and has been as little known as he has.[3] His works--especially Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt--were also a significant fountainhead of philosophical investigations in analytical philosophy. The importance of Brentano's thought for the concept of Intentionality seems to be largely in his attempt to find a clear line of demarcation between the mental and the physical. As Brentano notices the problem is that the meanings of the words--'mental' and 'physical'--are not clear to us, and that is why we do not possess a strict criterion for distinguishing the mental and the physical.

Nevertheless, Brentano realizes we possess an intuitive or prephilosophical distinction between them. He describes his project saying that the aim is to clarify the meaning of two terms 'physical phenomena' and 'mental phenomena.' He believes all the data of our consciousness are divided into two great classes: that of the mental, and that of the physical phenomena.[4]

2.1 Mental and Physical Phenomena

Brentano's most profound and concise treatment of this problem is in the chapter entitled "The Distinction between Mental and Physical Phenomena'' of his work: Psychology From an Empirical Standpoint. The first attempt at marking the mental-physical distinction is the amassing of examples of mental and physical phenomena. Brentano realizes that we mark the distinction commonsensically, and he seems to be of the opinion that the distinction introduced by himself is clearer.

To understand the demarcation between the mental and the physical let us take the following examples: If A hears a sound x, or sees a coloured object y, there are two different things we have to distinguish: (1) the sound x, or the coloured object y and (2) hearing the sound x, or seeing the coloured object y. Brentano asserts that all the "states of imagination'' are mental phenomena: "hearing a sound'', "seeing a coloured object'', "feeling warmth or cold'', "thinking of a general concept'' etc. And so every judgement, recollection, expectation, inference, conviction, opinion, emotion, act of will, or intention is a mental phenomenon.

According to this classification, these examples are contrasted by Brentano with the physical phenomena: sounds, figures, landscapes, colours, warmth, cold, odour, images which appear in the imagination and so on [5].

Brentano divides mental phenomena into three groups: (1) presentations (Vorstellungen), (2) judgments (Urteile) and (3) phenomena of love and hate--emotions (Phänomene der Liebe und des Hasses -- Gemütsbewegungen).[6]

2.2 Being Directed towards an Object

The concept of Intentionality is a central point of Brentano's ontology of mind. The passage where he first refers to the Intentionalität is well-known:

"Jedes psychische Phänomen ist durch das charakterisiert, was die Scholastiker des Mittelalters die Intentionale (auch wohl mentale) Inexistenz eines Gegenstandes genannt haben, und was wir, obwohl mit nicht ganz unzweideutigen Ausdrücken, die Beziehung auf einen Inhalt, die Richtung auf ein Objekt (worunter hier nicht eine Realität zu verstehen ist), oder die immanente Gegenständlichkeit nennen würden."[7]

In this way Brentano reintroduces Intentionality into philosophy saying that mental phenomena are characterized by "the Intentional inexistence of an object'', "reference to a content'', "immanent objectivity'' or as it is generally called, "direction toward an object''. By the "inexistence of an object'' he probably means that the object of our thought or perception may not actually exist independently of that thought or perception. Brentano draws our attention to the fact that the `object' is not to understood here as meaning a "thing'' because it is possible that the "object'' does not exist. For example we could think about a dragon with three heads, even though the object of our imagination is not a part of the real physical world.

A presentation has a privileged place in this theory. It is understood here as an act of consciousness, a nominal Intentional reference. Every presentation has its object. Brentano uses a kind of tautology saying that the object of presentation is simply the presented object, nothing more, but that which is presented is independent of things which actually exist.[8]

 

3. How the Mind Works

In the previous chapter I attempted to outline Brentano's ideas concerning the demarcation of the mental and the physical. From the standpoint of Intentionality we could summarize it saying that Intentionality is "directedness'', "aboutness'' or "ofness'' of mental phenomena (mental acts) towards an object. Now, let us return to Searle's concept and present his modifications of Brentano's theory. As I have already said the primary aim of this paper is Intentionality of perception, but before we turn our attention to that, we need to adumbrate the "default positions'' and some basic terms.

By "default positions'' Searle understands the views we hold prereflectively so that any departure from them requires a conscious effort and a convincing argument. He calls them the Background of our thought and language.[9] Here there are some of them:

  1. There is a real world existing independently of us (this view Searle calls "external realism").
  2. We have direct perceptual access to the world through our senses (the so-called "process of perception" that we will talk about in the subsequent discussion).
  3. Words in our language typically have a reasonably clear meaning.
  4. Our statements are typically true or false depending on whether they correspond to how things are (the correspondence theory of truth).
  5. Causation is a real relation among objects and events in the world.

Many philosophers in history criticized these default positions. The great philosophers often become famous for rejecting what everybody else takes for granted. But, Searle thinks the positions are in general true, and the philosophical attacks are mistaken.

3.1 Mind as a Part of Nature

As I have already said in the introduction, Searle is not satisfied with the mental-physical demarcation in the present dualist and materialist analyses of the mind-body problem. We cannot take heed of his research as thoroughly as it would be worthy of. I intend to mention his reflexion in passing enough to understand the conclusion concerning Intentionality as a biological phenomenon.

By dualism we here understand the view that man consists of the material body and an immaterial part (soul), or at least that a person's mind is not reducible to his body.

In contrast, materialists asserts that a person's mind is a part of his material body and that we can investigate it using scientific methods, especially those of neurobiology. Materialism comes in many different varieties, such as behaviorism, physicalism, functionalism, reductionism, and so on.[10]

Searle believes neither dualism, nor materialism have a chance of being right, and the fact that we continue to pose and try to answer these questions in the antiquated vocabulary of "mental" and "physical," "mind" and "body," should be a tip-off that we are making some fundamental conceptual mistake in our formulating the questions and the answers. Every dualist conception makes the status and existence of consciousness utterly mysterious and materialism in each its variety seems to be completely false because it ends up denying the existence of consciousness and thus denying the existence of the phenomenon that gives rise to the question in the first place.

Searle devises a new solution of this problem: we have to reject the obsolete terminology and accept the assertion that mind is a part of nature, and thus it is a biological phenomenon.[11]

3.2 Consciousness

It is clear that the primary and most essential feature of any mind is consciousness. Thus, in the beginning of this discussion on the "naturalized mind," it seems to be necessary to begin with Searle's reflexion of consciousness:

"By 'consciousness' I mean those states of sentience or awareness that typically begin when we wake up in the morning from a dreamless sleep and continue throughout the day until we fall asleep again. Other ways in which consciousness can cease is if we die, go into a coma, or otherwise become 'unconscious'."[12]

This definition could arouse our dissatisfaction and valid objections. We still could ask: But, what exactly does "consciousness" mean? Searle answers that it is a biological process occurring in the brain. Thanks to the efforts of natural sciences we know all of consciousness states are caused by cerebral processes. But now, we have another problem: How brain processes could cause consciousness or how brain processes do in fact cause consciousness.

Searle does not try to answer such questions. He believes that this "mystery" must be explained by neurobiologists, because consciousness is a biological phenomenon. It is caused by lower-level processes in our brain. Thus, conscious processes are simply biological neuronal processes.

Searle admits that consciousness is certainly still special among biological phenomena. That is why, he maintains that it comprises high-level processes realized in the structure of the brain.[13]

Consciousness comes in huge number of forms and varieties, but what essential, in all its forms, is its inner, qualitative, and subjective nature. It has therefore a first person ontology, and that is why, it cannot be reduced to third person phenomena--cannot be material.[14]

3.2.1 Intentionality and Causation

It is worth to point out that consciousness and mental acts occurring in the process are essentially connected with Intentionality. As we remember Brentano realized that mental acts are characterized by "reference to a content", "immanent objectivity", or simply "direction towards an object". Searle draw our attention to the fact that not all conscious states are Intentional, and not all Intentional states are conscious. But in spite of that it is absolutely true that there is a connection between them. Now, let us see how Searle defines Intentionality:

"Intentionality is that feature of the mind by which mental states are directed at, or are about or of, or refer to, or aim at, states of affairs in the world. It is a peculiar feature in that the object need not actually exist in order to be represented by our Intentional state."[15]

Searle realizes that a conscious state, such as an intention or a desire, functions by representing the sort of event that it is caused by. This kind of mental causation is called here "Intentional causation.'' Conscious beings have a fascinating property: to represent objects and states of affairs in the world and to act on the basis of those representations. As we know, that feature got a name in European philosophy: "Intentionalität." Intentionality as a product of evolution is the primary role of the mind; it causes our relations in certain ways to the environment, and especially to other people.

As we could see Searle believes that there is an essential connection: we only can understand Intentionality in terms of consciousness. Now, let us ask what exactly is the relation between consciousness and Intentionality. Searle believes that not all conscious states are Intentional, and not all Intentional states are conscious. Therefore, cerebral states which are nonconscious can be understood as mental states only to the extent that we understand them as capable of giving rise to conscious states.

When we are totally unconscious--Searle maintains--the only actually existing facts then and there are facts involving states of our brain that are describable in purely neurobiological terms. Then he asks what fact about those states makes them my unconscious belief. He answers that the only fact which could make them into a mental state is that they are capable of causing that state in a conscious form.[16]

Searle points out that causality is generally regarded as a natural relation between evens in the world; Intentionality is here considered as a biological phenomenon. We have already talked about the relation between causality and Intentionality.

Now, let us say several words about Intentional causation. It is Searle's belief that "volitive" states (an action) and "cognitive" states (such as, for example, perception) are causally self-referential. Therefore, if I really see an object, then it must not only be the case that I have a visual experience whose conditions of satisfaction are that there is the object there, but the fact that there is the object there must cause the visual experience that has those conditions of satisfaction.[17]

3.2.2 The Background of Intentionality and the Network

Next terms that are important for the understanding of Searle's concept of Intentionality are the Background and the Network. I intend to outline them in this section.

If we have an Intentional state, we also have to have a set of capacities, abilities, tendencies, habits, dispositions, taken-for-granted presuppositions and so on. Searle calls this set of "nonrepresentational" mental capacities "Background."

According to the American philosopher all of our Intentional states only determine their condition of satisfaction against a Background of know-how that enables me to cope with the world and our capacity for rational though and behaviour is for most part a Background capacity.

Part of the Background is common to all cultures. Such universal phenomena Searle calls "deep Background." In contrast, the features of Background that cultures vary, he calls "local cultural practices," but he simultaneously admits that there is no sharp dividing line between deep Background and local cultural practices.

What is important in this concept is that Intentionality does not function as a separate mental capacity. Intentional states function the way they do only given a presupposed set of Background capacities, but the Background itself is pre-intentional.[18]

Intentional states do not function autonomously in isolation. Each of them requires for its functioning a Network of other Intentional states. Only in this relationship their conditions of satisfaction are determined. Searle believes that the Network is a part of the Background.[19]

3.2.3 Perception

Perception is one of the fundamental themes in philosophy. It has a principal importance for any theory of knowledge and consciousness. We live in the world that consists of "recognizable" objects and the process of perception gives us knowledge about them. We become conscious of the world, of the sounds, tastes, odours, shapes, figures and spatial location of any objects and warmth or cold that we feel. But, there are some problems about the role of sense-perception in connection with the world around us, about how perception is to be construed and how it relates to a number of other aspects of the mind's functioning.[20] In this place I would just like to refer to the problem about what precisely perception.

In the history of philosophy perception was defined in various way: for example, as mind's subjection to external influence and its adaptive reaction to such influence (Bacon), as intellectual rather than sensual apprehension (Descartes, Spinoza), as the internal state of one "monad" whereby it takes cognition of other "monads" (Leibniz), as (a) immediate knowing of something, (b) the total unified knowledge of a present sensible objects, or (c) awareness through or dependently on the external senses (scholastic philosophers).

After the huge expansion of exact sciences in last century, such philosophers as for example Ryle argued that some well-known facts of sciences, such as optics, acoustics and neurophysiology seem to lead to the conclusion that what we see, hear or smell cannot be things or happenings outside us, but are things or happenings inside our own minds.[21]

That way of thinking refusing the customary convictions on the process of perception in philosophy at that time introduced principal changes to its understanding. In contemporary epistemology, perception is the apprehension of ordinary sense-objects on the occasion of sensory stimulation. It is distinguished from sensation and from higher cerebral processes, mental states.

Searle defines perception saying that it is an Intentional and causal transaction between mind and the world; the direction of fit is mind-to-world, the direction of causation is words-to-mind. He proceeds from the conviction that how our seeing of any object works can be described by physical optics and neurophysiology. But, he is interested in the question how it works conceptually. What exactly are the elements that make up the truth conditions of sentences of the form "X sees y'' where X is a perceiver and y is an object? Searle introduces the problem using this example:

"When I see a car, or anything else for that matter, I have a certain sort of visual experience. In the visual perception of the car I don't see the visual experience, I see the car; but in seeing the car I have a visual experience, and the visual experience is an experience of the car, in a sense of 'of' we will need to explain."[22]

As we can note in that paragraph, author draw our attention to the fact that visual experiences are not themselves visual objects; they are not objects of our perception, and thus it does not make sense to ascribe to the visual experience the properties of the object which the visual experience is of.

Next, he is distinguishing between experience and perception; the thing is that the notion of perception involves the notion of succeeding in a way that the notion of experience does not.

Finally, he is opening the problem of Intentionality of perception using the expression of "experience of." As he realizes the "of" of "experience of" is in short the "of" of Intentionality. And, this problem will be the main theme in the subsequent discussion.

3.3 The Intentionality of Perception

Searle's starting point is the assumption that the visual experience is as much directed at or of objects and states of affairs in the world as any of the paradigm Intentional states. His argument for this conclusion is that the visual experience has conditions of satisfaction in exactly the same sense that such Intentional states as beliefs or desires have conditions of satisfaction. The Intentional content of the visual experience determines its conditions of satisfaction.

As Searle points out we can state several important similarities between the Intentionality of visual perception and, for example, belief or other Intentional states. The content of the visual experience, like the content of the belief, is always equivalent to a whole proposition. Visual experience is never simply of an object but rather it must always be connected with the feeling that such and such is the case.

It is clear that the content of the visual experience does not just make reference to an object. Searle believes that whenever it is true to say that X sees y it must be true that X sees that such and such is the case.[23]

It is worth of pointing out that according to Searle there is an important difference between "I see that" and "X sees that y''. First-person statements are  intensional-with-an-s with respect to the possibility of substitution whereas third-person statements are extensional.

Searle describes this situation saying that when in third-person reports of seeings we use the "sees that" form we are committed to reporting the content of the perception, how it seemed to the perceiver, in a way that we are not committed to reporting the content by the use of a simple noun phrase as direct object of "see''. Let us listen to Searle's explanation of this distinction:

"The most obvious explanation of this distinction is that the "see that" form reports the Intentional content of the perception. When in third-person reports we say that an agent saw that p we are committed to reporting the Intentional content of the visual perception, but the "see x" form reports only the Intentional object and does not commit the reporter to the content, to the aspect under which the Intentional object was perceived." (Searle, op. cit., p. 42.)

Now, we have to turn our attention to the following two facts: (1) Visual perception, like belief, always has the mind-to-world direction of fit. (2) Visual experiences, similarly as beliefs or desires, are characteristically identified and described in terms of their Intentional content. Thus, as Searle realizes, there is no way to give a complete description of my belief without saying what it is a belief that and similarly there is no way to describe my visual experience without saying what it is an experience of.

3.3.1 Visual Experiences and Mental (Re)presentations

As we could see, Searle argues that there are perceptual experiences which have Intentionality and mind-to-world direction of fit. Their Intentional content is propositional in form and the properties which are specified by it are not in general literally properties of the perceptual experiences. We could understand that there are some analogies between visual experiences and such Intentional states as belief or desires. Now, we will attempt to answer the question: what disanalogies are there between them?

Searle believes that we could call such forms of Intentionality as beliefs and desires ``representations'', but we should recognize that there is no special ontology carried by the notion of representation. It is just a shorthand for a constellation of independently motivated notions such as conditions of satisfaction, Intentional content, or direction of fit.

But, when we want to describe visual and other perceptual experiences we need say much more to characterize their Intentionality. They have all of the features of representations, but also other intrinsic features. Searle describes this topic in the following way:

"... visual and other sorts of perceptual experiences are conscious mental events. Intentionality of a representation is independent of whether it is realized in consciousness or not, but in general the Intentionality of a perceptual experience is realized in quite specific phenomenal properties of conscious mental events. For this reason the claim that there are visual experiences goes boyond the claim that the perception has Intentionality." (Op. cit., p. 45.)

And thus, as Searle points out, not only is the visual experience a conscious mental event, but it is related to its conditions of satisfaction in ways which are quite different from such Intentional states as beliefs and desires. We can see that visual experiences have some special features, and that is why Searle proposes to describe them as ``presentations''. Explaining this he claims that they do not just represent the state of affairs perceived. When satisfied, it gives us direct access to it, and in that sense it is a presentation of that state of affairs. Presentations are then a special subclass of representations.

3.3.2 The Problem of "Seeing-as"

It is plausible that later Wittgenstein's discussion on the Intentionality of perception had a significant influence on Searle's thinking. Thus, it seems to be useful for understanding of our next discussion to touch on Wittgenstein's reflexions on mental representations in his famous Philosophical Investigations. (See Wittgenstein {pa18}, pp. 307-67.)

Wittgenstein begins by distinguishing two uses of the word ``see.'' First, if somebody asks: ``What do you see there?'' I will answer: ``I see this'' (a description). Second: ``I see a likeness between these two faces.'' This shows, according to author, einen kategorischen Unterschied between two ``objects'' of sight. (Op. cit., p. 307.)

Wittgenstein believes that this is not something we make up, but it is a part of our visual experience. He makes this remark about visual experience: What is the criterion of the visual experiences?--The representation of `what is seen' (die Darstellung dessen, `was gesehen wird'). He introduces us to the problem as follows:

"Der Begriff der Darstellung des Gesehenen, sowie der Kopie, ist sehr dehnbar, und mit ihm der Begriff des Gesehenen. Die beiden hängen innig zusammen. (Und das heißt nicht, daß sie ähnlich sind.) (Op. cit., p. 315.)

Let us recognize, for example, a situation in which two people (A and B) are looking at this familiar duck-rabbit drawing taken from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

A sees it as a duck drawing and B as a rabbit drawing. There is a sense in which A and B are seeing the same thing and another sense in which they are not. Wittgenstein's solution of this problem is that we fall into confusion when we merge these categorically different uses of the word ``see.'' He maintains that we only ``see the duck and rabbit aspects'' if we are already conversant with the shapes of those animals.

Heil gives another drawing depicting the face of an old lady and--from other aspect--the profile of a young woman. As Heil points out there are the same lines making up two different figures; we can distinguish them in our minds by shifting our attention, but one figure cannot be present without the other. (Cf. Heil {pa6}, 181-86.)

Searle claims that in this case we are inclined to say that even though we have two visual experiences with two different presentational contents, there is only one picture on the page before us, and thus the Intentional object of the visual experience is different in the two cases.

Searle devises the following solution of the problem: as we can literally see objects, even though whenever we see an object we always see it under an aspect, so we can literally see the rabbit aspects of objects.

To make a discussion on the comparison between seeing and other mental acts (such as believing, desiring remembering) more clear Searle ({pa12}, pp. 52-3), presents the following table:

 
  Seeing Believing Desiring Remembering
Nature of the Intentional component visual experience belief desire memory
Presentation or representation presentation representation representation representation
Causally self-referential yes no no yes
Direction of fit mind-to-world mind-to-world world-to-mind mind-to-world
Direction of causation as determined by Intentional content world-to-mind none none world-to-mind

3.3.3 Intentionality and Visual Experiences

There is a variety of ways in which the Network and Background of Intentionality are related to the character of the visual experience, and the character of the visual experience is related to its conditions of satisfaction. Searle admits that he does not know a systematic theoretical account of the relations between these various parameters. Searle just presents tree ways of these relations:

  1. Different beliefs cause different visual experiences with different conditions of satisfaction, even given the same optical stimuli.
  2. The same beliefs coexist with different visual experiences with different conditions of satisfaction even though the content of the experiences is inconsistent with the content of the beliefs and is overridden by the beliefs.
  3. The same beliefs plus different visual experiences yield the same conditions of satisfaction of the visual experiences.

3.3.4. Visual Perception and Its Conditions

The account of visual perception that Searle argues can be represented schematically as follows:

 

                    Visual experience

Perceiver  X -----------------------------> y Object perceived

                                        (object causes visual experience)

This figure of visual perception consists of at least three elements: X (the perceiver), an arrow (the visual experience), and y (the object or, more strictly: the state of affairs) perceived. As we can see, the visual experience has Intentional content, it is directed at the Intentional object, whose existence is part of its conditions of satisfaction.

In the case of visual hallucination the perceiver has the same visual experience but no object is really present:

 

                    Visual experience

Perceiver  X ----------------------------->

 

Now, let us attempt to answer the question what are the truth conditions of the sentence of the form X sees y. From the point of Searle's concept of Intentionality we have to formulate it more precisely, for instance in this way: X sees that there is y in front of X.

Searle believes that there are the following truth conditions of this sentence:

  1. X has a visual experience which has (a) certain conditions of satisfaction and (b) certain phenomenal properties.
  2. The conditions of satisfaction are: there is y in front of X and the fact that there is y in front of X is causing the visual experience.
  3. The phenomenal properties are such as to determine that the conditions of satisfaction are as described in point 2.
  4. The form of the causal relation in the conditions of satisfaction is continuous and regular Intentional causation.
  5. The conditions of satisfaction are in fact satisfied. That is, there actually is y causing the visual experience which has the Intentional content. (It is worth of pointing out that the relation between the visual experience and the scene perceived is Intentional and causal.)

3.3.5 Representationalism, Phenomenalism and Realism

We saw that according to the presented account in the process of perception we perceive a material object (a part of the real world) and the object itself causes our visual experiences. This view is often called ``naive realism'' or simply ``realism''. Many philosophers engage in controversy with this way of thinking claiming that we do not apparently perceive the material object itself, but the visual experience or sense datum is something like a copy (representation) of the object (the representative theory). Others believe that the object is a collection of sense data (various versions of phenomenalism). In this discussion, I would like to outline very shortly Searle's arguments against representative concept and phenomenalism on his reflexion concerning the Intentionality of perception.

As Chalmers realizes, representationalism is a popular position claiming that phenomenal properties are just representational properties. The representation of this suggestion depends on just what account is given of representational properties in turn. Chalmers points out that most often, the suggestion is combined with a reductive account of representation (usually a functional account), in which case it becomes a variant of reductive functionalism. (Cf. Chalmers {pa5}, 377-78.)

According to Heil this way of thinking of total functional systems enables us to see more clearly how creatures with very different beliefs and desires might nevertheless be seen as functionally on a par. He draws our attention to the fact that the representative theory of mind requires the postulation of a system of symbols that function as ``mental representations.'' (Cf. Heil {pa6}, 377-78. On arguments for representationalism, see for instance: F. I. Dretske, Naturalizing the Mind (Cambridge, MA, 1995); G. Harman, The Intristic Quality of Experience (Philosophical Perspectives, no. 4, 1990), pp. 31-52; W. G. Lycan, Consciousness and Experience (Cambridge, MA, 1996); M. Tye, Ten Problems of Consciousness (Cambridge, MA, 1995), etc. On arguments against representationalism, see Chalmers {pa5}, 377-78; D. M. McIver Lopes, What Is It Like to See with Your Ears? The Representational Theory of Mind (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, No. 2, 2000), pp. 439-53, etc.)

Even though there are various objections concerning the view that we perceive sense data, Searle is looking for new arguments against representationalism. As he realizes, the main problem of the representative theory is that the notation of resemblance between the sense data and the material object which the sense data represent must be unintelligible since the object term is by definition inaccessible to our sensation.

Next Searle's argument is that it makes no sense to claim that the shapes and colours that we see resemble the shapes and colours of the material object which is absolutely invisible.\newpage In addition, on this account there is no way to attach any literal sense to the assertion that objects have some sensible qualities.

Searle also believes that there is decisive objection against phenomenalism: On the phenomenalist account, the publicly accessible objects in the world become sense data (or strictly collections of sense data) that are always private. Therefore, what I perceive is a private word that is not accessible to anybody else because it consists entirely in my own sense data.

And thus, any hypothesis that other people might perceive the same objects or that they even exist and see sense data in the same sense in which I exist and see sense data becomes unintelligible because my perception of other people here is always my perception of my private sense data, that is my perception of some features of myself. (Cf. Searle {pa12}, pp. 57-61. As we can see such a view as this reduces to solipsism. For more details about phenomenalism, see R. Chisholm, Phenomenalism. In Perceiving. A Philosophical Study (Ithaca, 1957), pp. 189-98; R. J. Hirst, Phenomenalism. In The Problem of Perception (London, New York, 1959), pp. 74-97; or Priest {pa4}, pp. 77-8, 112-19, 163, 183-209. On critics of phenomenalism, see for instance D. M. Armstrong,  Refutation of Phenomenalism. In Perception and the Physical World (London, 1961), pp. 47-61.)

3.3.6 The Problem of Particularity

We attempted to assimilate an account of perception to Searle's theory of Intentionality. Now, we intend to discuss the situation when a person sees that a particular, previously identified, object is in front of him. Searle's question is this: How does this particularity enter the Intentional content of perception?

To understand that the `problem of particularity' is a serious difficulty for the theory of Intentionality Searle uses for his analysis Putnam's twin earth fantasy. (See H. Putnam, `The meaning of meaning', in Mind, Language, and Reality, Collected Papers, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 215-71.) In short, the fantasy is as belows: Suppose on our earth, a man X sees his wife Y in action a and in a fantastic distant galaxy, on twin earth (type identical with our earth) X' sees Y' in action a'.

In this case, Searle (see {pa12}, pp. 62-5) asks the question what is it about the content of visual experience of X that makes the presence of Y rather than Y' part of the conditions of satisfaction of his visual experience? The problem is that both--experiences of X and those of X'--are qualitatively identical, but it is part of the conditions of satisfaction of each experience of X that he is exactly seeing his wife Y.

Now, we do not want to know how X can be sure that who he sees is his wife Y, and not Y' identical with Y (epistemological problem). The question that we are asking rather is: what is it about visual experience of X right here on our earth that makes it the case that it can only be satisfied by one particular previously identified woman Y and not by some other woman who happens to be type identical with that woman, whether X can tell the difference or not?

Furthermore, the point of the fantasy is not to suggest that there might actually be a twin earth, rather the point is to remind us that on our very own earth, we have Intentional contents with particular and not general conditions of satisfaction. In short, what we want to know is how the particularity enters the Intentional content. Namely, any theory of Intentionality has to account for the fact that one often has Intentional contents directed at a particular object.

According to the currently fashionable solution, the difference between X and X' is simply that in case of X his experience is actually caused by Y, and in case of X' his experience is caused by Y'. If the visual experience of X is in fact caused by Y, then he is seeing Y, and he would not be seeing her if she did not cause his visual experience.

Searle is not satisfied with this solution because it is from a third-person point of view, but the problem as he presents is a first-person internal problem. Then our question is, more precisely: ``Under what conditions does X find himself to be seeing that Y is in front of him?'' As Searle believes, to solve this problem we have to remind ourselves of the following:

  1. The Network and the Background affect the conditions of satisfaction of the Intentional state.
  2. Intentional causation is always internal to the conditions of satisfaction of Intentional states.
  3. Agents stand in indexical relations to their own Intentional states, their own Networks, and their own Backgrounds. (Cf. Searle {16}, 175-96.)

As we can see, to answer questions concerning the problem of particularity we have to be conscious of the fact that Intentional contents do not determine their conditions of satisfaction in isolation as I have already wrote describing Searle's terms of Background and Network. We can also recall our reflexion about assumption that causation characteristically figures in determining the conditions of satisfaction of Intentional states when it is Intentional causation, that is, when the causal relation occurs as part of the Intentional content.(Cf. Searle {12}, pp. 112-40.)

The Network of Intentional states that X is aware of is his Network and the Background capacities he makes use of have to do with his Background (indexicality). Searle realizes that the problem is to show how Background and Network reach inside the Intentional content to determine that the causal conditions of satisfaction are particular rather than general. He proposes the following ``key to understanding how Intentionality can be aimed at particular objects'': the conditions of satisfaction of each experience and each memory of X after the initial encounter with Y are not just that the experience should be satisfied by a woman satisfying description of Y in general terms but that it should be caused by 'the same' woman who caused other experiences and memories of X.

Even though there are in philosophy varieties of objections against such an assumption, Searle maintains:

"The capacity to recognize people, objects, etc., does not normally require comparison of the object with pre-existing representations, whether images, beliefs, or other sorts of `mental representations'. One simply recognizes people and things." (Searle {12}, p. 69.)

It is clear that to recognize people and things I had to have in the past a set of experiences caused by the presence and features of these people and things and in present I have a set of memories of those experiences.

Let us analyse a situation in which I see my friend John staying before me. I have a capacity to recognize a certain man X as John, which is such that: I have a visual experience of a man with what I recognize as identical John-like features staying before me and his presence and features are causing this visual experience and that man is identical with X. (Cf. op. cit., pp. 68-70.)

Therefore, Searle's solution of the problem of particularity is following: Both X and X' have qualitatively identical visual experiences. The difference in these cases is that experience of X makes reference to his own Background capacities and that of X' to his own Background capacities. The recognitional capacity is normally caused by the object of the recognition, but we can imagine cases where one might learn to recognize an object without one's capacity being caused by the object.

3.3.7 Does Searle's concept lead to scepticism?

There is a sceptical argument against the theory of perception presented by Searle that reads as follows: It looks as if the causal version of naive realism that was presented leads to scepticism about the possibility of ever knowing about the real world on the basis of your perceptions, because there is no neutral point of view from which you can examine the relationships between your experiences and their supposed Intentional objects (or conditions of satisfaction) to see if the latter really cause the former.

In contrast, Searle believes that on his account of the self-referential causal character of the Intentional content of perception, Intentional causation cuts across the distinction between the Intentional content and the natural world which contains the objects and states of affairs which satisfy that Intentional content, because the Intentional content both represents and is one term of the causal relation and yet causation is a part of the natural world. According to Searle the sceptical objection would only be valid if one could not directly experience the causal impact of objects on me in my perceptions of them but had to ascertain the presence of the object, as cause, by some further process of inference and validation of the inference. But on Searle's account the visual experience does not represent the causal relation as something existing independently of experience, but rather as a part of the experience is the experience of being caused. (Cf. op. cit., 71-6.)

4. Conclusion

The starting point of Searle theory is the ``classical'' Brentanian concept of Intentionality, in which Intentionality is a phenomenon taking place in the majority of mental states. Searle characterizes Intentionality as that feature of the mind by which it is directed at or about or of objects or states of affairs in the world. Also according to Brentano mental phenomena are directed towards objects. As we can see in this point both these conceptions are alike.

But, we must not forget that there is also an essential difference between these two theories. Namely, the main theme in Brentano's theory of Intentionality is the mental-physical demarcation which leads its author to dualism. In contrast, Searle rejects such terms as the ``mental'' and the ``physical'' saying that it is antiquated vocabulary that stays on the ground of such theories of mind as materialism or dualism. As we can remember he is sure that every materialist and dualist system is mistaken: Dualism because it makes the status and existence of consciousness utterly mysterious and materialism because it ends up denying the existence of consciousness and thus denying the existence of the phenomenon that gives rise to the question in the first place. According to the American philosopher our mind is a part of nature and Intentionality is simply the primary role of the mind causing our relations in certain ways to the environment, and especially to other people.

Searle is a positivist: Consciousness is understood here as a high-level biological process realized in the structure of our brain. It has a first-person ontology, and that is why, it cannot be reduced to third person phenomena. Even though he admits that consciousness is still special among biological phenomena and that it ``cannot be material'' he believes that just such sciences as neurobiology can explain the ``mystery of consciousness'', and this view is at least contentious.

Once, some theorists of philosophy had a serious problem where Searle should be placed in the philosophy of mind. Several thought that he is a materialist others believed that he is a representative of ``property dualism''. Searle protested against these assumptions in his book The Rediscovery of Mind. (For more details, see Searle {16}, 1-26.) Now, his solution of the mind-body problem is most often called ``biological naturalism'' (this name comes from Searle himself). I have to admit that his arguments still did not really convince me that there is any principal difference between so-called ``biological naturalism'' and materialist monism. We can notice that he is kinder to his own views then to those of others. When he criticizes some conceptions he most often simplifies them and exposes them to ridicule, but sometimes his own arguments against them are not satisfactory.

Generally, Searle's philosophical reflexions provoke any concentrated reader to thought. Of course, we have to be critical reading his books and be circumspect in the agreement of his answers to questions and solutions of problems. But, I am sure that John Searle's analyses are worth of our attention.


[1] Caston {4}, p. 249.

[2] On more detailed description of Aristotle's philosophy of mind, see for example: Caston {4}, pp. 249-68; Annas, Aristotle on Memory and the Self (Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 4, 1986), pp. 99-117; Barker, Aristotle on Perception and Ratios (Phronesis 26, 1981), pp. 248-66. Also see: Burnyeat, Is an Aristotelian Philosophy of Mind Still Credible? In M. C. Nussbaum and A. O. Rorty (eds.) Essays on Aristotle's De Anima (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 15-26; Cashdollar, Aristotle's Account of Incidental Perception (Phronesis 18, 1973), pp. 156-75., etc.

[3] On the importance of Brentano's ideas for Austrian philosophy, see for instance Barry Smith, Austrian Philosophy: The Legacy of Franz Brentano (Chicago: Open Court, 1994).

[4] Cf. Brentano {2}, vol. 1, Book 1, p. 109: "Die gesamte Welt unserer Erscheinungen zerfällt in zwei große Klassen, in die Klasse der physischen und in die der psychischen Phänomene."

[5] Brentano {2}, Vol. 1, Book 1, p. 112. It is worth pointing out that Brentano realizes that all physical phenomena have extension and spatial location. The opposite, however, is true of mental phenomena: thinking, willing, and the like appear without extension and spatial location.

[6] Brentano {2}, Vol. 2, Book 2, pp. 28-37.

[7] Brentano {2}, Vol. 1, Book 2, p. 124.

[8] Let us notice that Brentano does not use the problematic scholastic concept of the object of intention. It is just the nominal form which seems to be similar in both of these concepts.

[9] Cf. Searle {17}, pp. 9-20.

[10] For more details about materialism, dualism, and their varieties, see for instance: F.H.C. Crick and C. Koch, Towards a Neurobiological Theory of Consciousness. Seminars in the Neurosciences (New York, No 2, 1990), pp. 263-75; S. Guttenplan (ed.) A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind (Oxford, Cambridge MA, 1995), pp. 265-69, 317-32, 471-84); also see Chalmers {5}, pp. 129-49, 161-68, 168-71; or Heil {6}, pp. 16-32, 40-49, 94-5, 207-9, 220-1.

[11] For further discussion of the mind-body problem and Searle's solution, see especially: Searle {16}, pp. 1-63.

[12] Searle {17}, pp. 40-1.

[13] Cf. Searle {17}, pp. 49-53.

[14] For further discussion of the mind naturalized as a biological phenomenon, see for instance Searle {16}, pp. 1-57; or {17}, pp. 45-55. On more detailed description of the structure of consciousness, see especially: Searle {15}, pp. 1-98; and {16}, pp. 127-49. For more information about the irreducibility of consciousness, see Chalmers {5}, pp. 93-209, and Searle {16}, pp. 111-26.

[15] Searle {17}, pp. 64-5.

[16] Cf. Searle {17}, pp. 86-9. On the nature of Intentional states, see especially Searle {14}, pp. 1-36. For more details about mental causation, see Kim {7}, pp. 29-87.

[17] Cf. Searle {17}, p. 105 and {12}, pp. 112-40. On the idea of causal self-referentiality see, for instance: Gilbert Harman, Practical Reason (Review of Metaphysics 29, no. 3, March 1976), pp. 431-63.

[18] Cf. Searle {17}, pp. 107-9. On Searle's concept of Background, see also his discussion in {12}, pp. 141-59; {14}, pp. 384-85; {16}, pp. 175-96.

[19] Cf. Searle {16}, pp. 186-91.

[20] For more details on these problems, see D. W. Hamlyn, Perception. In S. Guttenplan (ed.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind (Oxford, Cambridge MA, 1995), pp. 459-63.

[21] Cf. Ryle {9}, pp. 93-110.

[22] Searle {12} pp. 37-8.

[23] Cf. op. cit., pp. 40-1.

 


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{13} Searle, John R. Minds, Brains and Science, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

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{19} Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Über Gewißheit}, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970.