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Entries in Philosophy of Mind (4)


On Intention

In order to avoid the possibility of granting the reality of "mental existents," Hall, on page 153, speaks of intentions as dimensional (or, as he had written earlier, of having the nature of being an aspect of something else). He writes:

I have already suggested an escape from this by confining 'events' to physical happenings, some of which (certain neural ones) have an intentional dimension.

This is a position that Walter on this list has sometimes espoused himself. Hall goes on:

We could now add to this that when we loosely speak of a total mental event or state, such as is involved in an emotional experience, what we correctly refer to is a total cerebral event with all its intentional complexity, from which perceptions can be considered as abstractions.

This raises the interesting question of how we are to think about whatever it is that we consider the core feature of what we call "consciousness" or "mind" or "the mental."

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Hall, Dennett and the Problems of Reference and Intentionality

I've taken up Walter's suggestion to begin reading Everett Wesley Hall's book on-line, pending a decision to obtain a hard copy from Amazon. I've found it quite interesting, as Walter suggested, though partly because of various synchronicities I've found with earlier highly energized debates some of us have participated in on other lists. Interestingly and in light of a longstanding argument on this and other sites, Hall, early on in his book, Our Knowledge of Fact and Value, uses "refers" precisely as I have often done, i.e., to pick out what one has in mind, rather than what actually is the case.

He writes:

A cognitive verb with a substantival clause as objective complement may be taken, then, to refer to an act whose object is a fact or a 'non-fact,' that is, a fact that does not obtain. (page 19, chapter 2)

Here he uses "refers" precisely as we do in ordinary language, and as I had done when I wrote, to the consternation of some of my interlocutors, things like 'a referent is what I have in mind when I make a referring statement, i.e., it's that to which I am referring by making the statement, gesture, etc., and can be understood based on my description of what I have in mind.' . . .

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Subjects and Objects

A consideration of the differences between subjects and objects and why awareness of these states seems to exert a conflicting, and seemingly irreconcilable, pull on our thinking.

. . . the world stands before us, those of us with the right systems of course, and it is that world in which we live, in which we find ourselves when we open our eyes. But sometimes some of us take an extra step, especially among the subspecies of primates that we belong to, and then we become aware of this very fact of awareness itself. We think about how the entire world we encounter through our sensory faculties, our remembered experiences and the pictures we build of these, in what we sometimes call our mind’s eye, when we imagine or plan or seek to make sense of the things we recall, is really just our awareness of it. Subtract awareness and we are as inert as a stone, or as a mechanical device which moves through the agency of others and not by its own volition. Nothing is known by a stone and so, for the stone, nothing is.

And now we think here is the truth of it. We are, in the end, subjects and everything else around us is . . . what? Objects only, objects of our experiences. The only reality, it begins to seem to us, is the reality of ourselves, of this moment in which we perceive or remember, or think about the things we perceive or remember. And this now gains a significance for us that has the power to change how we view the world. No longer, we think, are we fellow objects in a world of objects, fellow objects, that is, which are members of a small class of those objects that just happen to have the feature of being aware. Now it seems to us, or to many of us who go down this path, that there is a specialness at work, that the unique trait which our sub-class of objects has and which is denied the others, sets us apart from the rest in some unique and unbridgeable way. We are the observers, they the observed.

Carried to extremes some who think this way may begin to question whether or not even the other members of the small class of objects which give the appearance of a subjective life are, in fact, subjects at all. Can they really be subjects as we are if the only real evidence we have of them is as observed objects? And so the explicit discovery of our own subjectivity leads eventually to the idea that being a subject is outside the world the subject has its subjectivity about, the world of which the subject is aware. We imagine ourselves as a source of light shining on this or that object to illumine it in the glow of our observation and then passing on. . . .

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A Horse of a Different Color

An exploration of what it means to understand the meaning of symbols, words, and gestures and how the mind manifests this.

A symbol inscribed in some long forgotten language, when unearthed by an archaeologist, would have no meaning attached to it unless and until someone uncovers the key to it. It might not even be recognizable as something meaningful at all until the key is discovered. Absent that, we should take it for nothing more than random markings or the like. But with a key for decoding we find meaning there. What is this meaning we have unlocked?

Wittgenstein might have said it's just the use to which the symbol was put by its long ago makers, a use we discover for ourselves by effective exercises in decoding (possibly through reliance on some standard, e.g., a Rosetta stone, or by using mathematical means to discern linguistic frequencies and deduce, from these, the role the markings once played for their makers in the long lost language). Words and other physical signifiers get their meaning because we give it to them by coming to understand their intended uses.

But what does it mean to understand the use? . . .

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