Consciousness & intentionality (and terminology) (draft 28 June)


Galen Strawson



01      Introduction

02      The No Problem Thesis

03      Intentionality as awareness

04      Intentionality without concepts

05      Is experience puzzling?

06      Materialism

07      Cognitive phenomenology

08      Purely experiential content

09      The sense in which all mentally contentful phenomena are experiential phenomena

10      Intentionality ≠ aboutness

11      ‘Intrinsic’ intentionality, ‘derived’ ‘intentionality’

12      Liberal aboutness

13      Robots and aboutness

14      Key terms

15      Some comments

16      Intentionality and experience

17      A mystery?

18      The No Problem Thesis

19      ‘Behavioural’ intentionality and real meaning

20      ‘Yes, but what is the relation between experience and intentionality?’



1 Introduction


Two things particularly bother us, as philosophers of mind.We want to give a naturalistic account of intentionality, of the way mental phenomena can be about or of things, directed at one thing or another; of the way a being can be aware of something, mentally in touch with something, mentally apprised or cognizant of something in thought or perception; of the way we can aim at, target, hit, refer to, mean an object, present or absent, concrete or not, in thought. And we want to give a naturalistic account of consciousness—of conscious experience, of phenomenal content, of ‘phenomenology’, of experiential ‘what-it’s-likeness’, of the experiential qualitative[1] character of experience—whatever you prefer to call it: I’m going to use the expressions ‘experience’ (in its non-count noun form) and ‘experiential phenomena’ to cover all the phenomena of consciousness. In my use, these expressions refer specifically and only to the phenomenon of the experiential qualitative character of experience, and not at all to the non-experiential being of experiences.[2]


2 The No Problem Thesis


So we want to know about consciousness and intentionality and the relation between them, and there isn’t much that argument can do for us.[3] As for intentionality, we know the relevant facts well enough: we know enough about what our experience is like, about what dogs and actual and possible robots can do, about what books, mirrors, pictures, puddles and so on are like. We decorate our debates with forms of argument, but what we really disagree about is the best way to put things, the best picture to present, the best terminology.[4]


Is intentionality especially puzzling? I don’t think so. I think there’s a powerful illusion here. In Mental Reality (1994) I endorsed the ‘No Problem Thesis’, according to which there is no special deep problem or puzzle raised by the existence of intentionality over and above any problem or puzzle raised by the existence of experience, although intentionality certainly involves special features of experience that need separate discussion. Since I still believe this, I will try re-express it in a series of observations in no particular order.


3 Intentionality as awareness


What is it to be in an intentional state? It is to be aware of something. And to be aware of anything is to be in an intentional state. So the basic problem of intentionality (if there is a problem of intentionality) equals the problem of awareness, or if you like awareness-of (if there is a problem of awareness, or awareness-of). And since awareness entails experience, intentionality entails experience.


—To be in an intentional state is to be aware of something, but awareness doesn’t entail experience. Moira is aware of your existence., but she is not now thinking about you. In fact she is dreamlessly asleep.


The word ‘awareness’ can be used in two ways. One implies occurrent experience, the other allows that awareness can be a dispositional state (like knowledge). I am going to favour the first use, according to which to be aware of something is to be in some experiential state. I will leave this choice without support until §9, in which I defend the view that—expound the sense in which—all truly mentally contentful phenomena are occurrent experiential phenomena. This view rules the dispositional use of ‘aware’ out of court as an ascription of a mentally contentful state; but I have no quarrel with the fact (never quarrel with facts) that statements like ‘she is aware of your existence’ are natural and fully intelligible as a description of dispositions to be in certain sorts of states of awareness.


Note that ‘aware of’ is a ‘success’ or ‘factive’ expression—you can’t be aware of X unless X exists[5]—and the same is true of intentionality: you can’t be in an intentional state with respect to X, or, as I will say, an X-intentional state, unless X exists.[6] Note also that beings incapable of experience, experienceless beings, are never aware of anything (although they may contain or constitute representations of things), and are by the same token never in intentional states.[7]


4 Intentionality without concepts


Intentionality has nothing specially to do with concepts or propositional thought. A baby has intentionality when it comes to consciousness in the womb, for it is aware of things, it has experience of things. Spiders have intentionality if there is something it is like, experientially, to be a spider (they are very sensitive to sound). You don’t have to be aware that you are aware of X in order to be aware of X, and hence to be in an X-intentional state. You don’t have to have any conception of awareness-of or intentionality in order to have awareness-of or intentionality. In the most basic case of intentionality a creature doesn’t have to have any sense that its experience is of or about something in the world. That is, its experience doesn’t have to have any internal intentionality,[8] where this is a phenomenological quality— an experienced character of aboutness or directedness—that experience can have whether its subject is normally located in the world or is a ‘brain in a vat’. It is enough that the creature has external intentionality—enough that its experience is in fact experience of something in the world.


We can distinguish perceptual intentionality and conceptual intentionality to allow for the point that although all genuine intentionality involves awareness, there can be intentionality—perceptual intentionality—that does not involve any deployment of concepts. It will be immediately objected that all genuine perception involves deployment of concepts. I disagree (it’s a matter of terminology), because a baby perceives things as soon as it quickens experientially and hears sounds (say). It does not have to deploy concepts or pay attention in order for this to be so. The same goes for a new born gosling, imprinting on its mother or on Konrad Lorenz.[9]


By way of (terminological) concession, I can call perceptual intentionality that does not involve any deployment of concepts primitive perceptual intentionality. Now, though, it will be said that perception need not involve experience at all—that there can be ‘subliminal’ perception. Yes; but in this paper I am going to use use ‘perception’ and its cognates in such a way that perception entails experience. If it is important to you to use the word ‘perception’ in a way that allows that there can be non-experiential perception (in an experiential being), so be it. It’s a perfectly respectable terminological decision. But my terminological position (see §10) will be that such mental occurrences can have ofness or aboutness but not intentionality.


There is another serious terminological option. One can set the bar for intentionality higher and hold that internal intentionality is necessary for genuine intentionality; so that what I call ‘primitive perceptual intentionality’ is not genuine intentionality at all. On this view genuine intentionality cannot occur without some sort of sense or grasp or experience or living of one’s experience as experience of something. My terminology is more liberal in allowing primitive intentionality, but not as (unacceptably) liberal as the terminology that doesn’t even require experience for intentionality.


5 Is experience puzzling?


I’ve claimed that the problem of intentionality (such as it is) is part of the problem of experience. Is experience particularly puzzling? I don’t think so. In itself, it is not a special puzzle at all. It is a puzzle only in so far as it is part of the puzzle of why anything exists at all—the puzzle of why there is something rather than nothing (if that is a puzzle). There are no good grounds for finding the existence of experience more puzzling than the existence of a stone—whether one is a materialist or not. To be a serious, realistic[10] materialist, and to think the existence of experience specially puzzling, one must fulfil two conditions. One must (by one’s own materialist lights) have [a] an inadequate and incomplete conception of the nature of matter, and yet believe, with no good grounds, that one has [b] a pretty good understanding of the (essential or fundamental) nature of matter.[11]


I need to say more about this. These days I can’t seem to move without a lot of substantive, terminological, and terminologico-substantive baggage. This is probably a failure on my part, but I don’t know what to do about it, so in §§6-9 I am going to set out some views: about materialism and experience; about ‘cognitive phenomenology’; about ‘narrow’ or as I will call it ‘purely experiential’ content; and about the view that all truly mentally contentful phenomena are experiential phenomena.[12] These substantive views about materialism and phenomenology have terminological consequences, for if they are right they have consequences for what ‘materialism’, ‘phenomenology’ and so on really mean; and §§10-15 are also officially devoted to terminological matters—although they are in fact just as concerned with matters of substance. It’s a long haul, but in the last six sections, §§16-20, I see if anything remains to be said about experience, intentionality and the relation between them.


It follows from the view that all truly mentally contentful phenomena (and hence all intentional phenomena) are experiential phenomena that dispositional phenomena like beliefs are not mentally contentful phenomena, and many will think that this last claim is off the map. All I ask is that you listen sympathetically to my terminology trying to work itself out.[13]


6 Materialism


Short form. To be a real materialist, to get to the starting line of serious, realistic materialism, is to be fully realist about the ‘what-it’s-likeness’ of experience. It is also to see that the existence of experience is in no way more puzzling than the existence of a stone. 


Materialism is the view that every real, concrete[14] phenomenon[15] in the universe is material or physical. Boats, blushes, works of art, gravity, experiences—feelings, thoughts—and so on. It seems that some materialists want to deny the existence of experience—of the experiential qualitative character of conscious goings on. This, however, is the silliest claim that has ever been made in philosophy, from Thales of Miletus to Lewis of  Princeton. It shows what happens when the theorizing instinct overpowers concern for truth, and I am going to ignore it. Life is too short.


Does the existence of experience raise any special problem for materialists, any problem greater than the problem raised by non-experiential phenomena? No. To think that it does is, as remarked in the last section, to make a very large and completely unjustified assumption. Most present-day materialists still take the so-called ‘mind-body’ problem (the experience-matter problem) to be the problem of how experiential phenomena can possibily be physical phenomena given what we already know about the nature of the physical. In fact, though, we have no good reason to think that we know anything about the material or physical that gives us any reason to find any problem in the idea that mental or experiential phenomena are physical phenomena. The point is old and well made by Locke, Priestley, Hume, Kant, Russell, Eddington, and Chomsky among others,[16] but many today ignore it (Dennett, the Churchlands and their ilk), treading most obediently in the (uncharacteristically errant) footsteps of a genius whom they are always disparaging—Descartes.[17]


If you are a materialist, then, a real or realistic materialist, that is, at the bare minimum, one who is wholly realist about experience (qualia, phenomenology, etc), you take it that experiential phenomena are wholly physical phenomena, just like boats and stones. So you obviously can’t contrast the mental with the physical, saying, look, here on the one side we have physical phenomena, and here on the opposite side we have the mental and in particular experiential phenomena. For this is exactly like saying, look, here on the one side we have the class of mammals, and here on the opposite side we have the class of cows. This won’t do because cows just are mammals. So too experiential what-it’s-likeness phenomena just are physical phenomena, according to materialism.


So: if you are a realistic materialist you cannot use the mental/physical distinction in the standard way. Instead you need to distinguish, within the realm of the physical, which is the only realm there is, according to you, between the mental and the non-mental, or, more particularly, between the experiential and the non-experiential.


The question is then this. When we embark on the naturalistic project, does the non-experiential have some sort of privileged position in our understanding of things, relative to the experiential? Do we know more about the non-experiential than the experiential?


The simple answer is: No. The stronger answer is: On the contrary. Today I will simply give some quotations that make the point, beginning with Russell, who makes the important observation that


physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover. For the rest, our knowledge is negative.[18]


He may exaggerate when, talking as a realistic materialist, he says that


we know nothing about the intrinsic quality of physical events except when these are mental events that we directly experience[19]


or that


as regards the world in general, both physical and mental [i.e. non-mental and mental, in my terminology], everything that we know of its intrinsic character is derived from the mental side[20]


but I don’t think he exaggerates much—if at all.


Do we know anything about the non-experiential physical that gives us any reason to find any problem in the idea that the experiential is also physical? No. Priestley makes the point in 1777. As a materialist he holds that ‘sensation and thought do necessarily result from the organization of the brain’,[21] and claims that ‘there is just the same reason to conclude that the brain thinks, as that it is white and soft,[22] but it is his answer to the question ‘What is matter?’ that is important here. ‘With respect to the definition of matter’, he says


 I…am not able to be more explicit than I have been. A definition of any particular thing…cannot be anything more than an enumeration of its known properties…. I…define…matter…to be a substance possessed of the property of extension, and of powers of attraction and repulsion. And since it has never yet been asserted, that the powers of sensation and thought are incompatible with these (solidity, or impenetrability only, having been thought to be repugnant to them)…, we have no reason to suppose that there are in man two…distinct…substances.[23]


The point is clear, but here are a few more quotations—this time from Eddington—that get things exactly right. Adopting a standard positivist approach to our epistemological situation (positivism only goes awry when it goes metaphysical), he points out that


our knowledge of the objects treated in physics consists solely of readings of pointers [on instrument dials] and other indicators…. But what knowledge have we of the nature of atoms that renders it at all incongruous that they should constitute a thinking [conscious] object?… Science has nothing to say as to the intrinsic nature of the atom. The physical atom is, like everything else in physics, a schedule of pointer readings. The schedule is, we agree, attached to some unknown background. Why not then attach it to something of spiritual nature of which a prominent characteristic is thought. It seems rather silly to prefer to attach it to something of a so-called ‘concrete’ nature inconsistent with thought, and then to wonder where the thought comes from. We have dismissed all preconception as to the background of our pointer readings, and for the most part can discover nothing as to its nature. But in one case—namely, for the pointer readings of my own brain—I have an insight which is not limited to the evidence of the pointer readings. That insight shows that they are attached to a background of consciousness. Although I may expect that the background of other pointer readings in physics is of a nature continuous with that revealed to me in this way, I do not suppose that it always has the more specialized attributes of consciousness. There is nothing to prevent the assemblage of atoms constituting a brain from being of itself a thinking [or conscious] object in virtue of that nature which physics leaves undetermined and undeterminable. If we must embed our schedule of indicator readings in some kind of background, at least let us accept the only hint we have received as to the significance of the background—namely, that it has a nature capable of manifesting itself as mental activity.[24]


To put the conclusion crudely—the stuff of the world is mind-stuff. As is often the way with crude statements, I shall have to explain that by ‘mind’ I do not here exactly mean mind and by ‘stuff’ I do not at all mean stuff…. The mind-stuff of the world is, of course, something more general than our individual conscious minds; but we may think of its nature as not altogether foreign to the feelings in our consciousness. The realistic matter and fields of force of former [classical] physical theory are altogether irrelevant—except in so far as the mind-stuff itself has spun these imaginings. The symbolic matter and fields of force of present-day theory are more relevant, but they bear to it the same relation that the bursar’s accounts bear to the activity of the college. Having granted this, the mental activity of the part of the world constituting ourselves occasions no surprise; it is known to us by direct self-knowledge, and we do not explain it away as something other than we know it to be—or, rather, it knows itself to be. It is the physical [in my terms non-experiential] aspects of the world that we have to explain…. Our bodies are more mysterious than our minds.[25]


In sum, and again: we know nothing—and we know we know nothing—about the nature of matter that gives us any reason to think there is any problem in the idea that experience is a wholly physical phenomenon. In this sense there is no special problem of experience. We take it as materialists that matter in this active arrangement, call it Y, constitutes—is—my seeing yellow. Do we understand this, or understand how Y is seeing yellow? No, if you like. But do we understand any better why, or indeed how, Y—this yellow-experience—is a fizz of billions of particles or strongs or fields? Certainly not; and there is no good reason to think I can know more about the intrinsic physical nature of Y=seeing yellow in doing its physics than in experiencing what I experience. Russell is surely right that, if anything, the reverse is true. You can problematize things in both directions equally. You can say: ‘Here is the whole of physics, and given all this it is impossible to see why or how Y constitutes—is—my seeing yellow’. Or you can say: ‘What we start from, what we know best, are things like the experience of yellow, or the experience of thinking of you, or of feeling gloomy. We are sure that these things are arrangements of matter in the head like Y. But, knowing this, it is impossible to see why or how anything is as in physics says it is’. Which line is better? Neither. It is pure prejudice to think that non-experiential phenomena are something that we can legitimately take for granted, take as the starting point of naturalistic investigation, in some way in which it is not equally legitimate to take experiential phenomena for granted and as the starting point of naturalistic investigation.[26] Some people are deeply in the grip of the view that there is some sense in which we know or understand the non-mental or non-experiential better than the mental or experiential; but this view it is obviously false. Some think that the fact that we can do good—spectacular—public theory with the non-experiential means that we understand it better than the experiential. That’s just another bad habit of thought to which philosophers are vulnerable.


8 Cognitive phenomenology


When people talk of experience, phenomenology in the current loose use, they often have sensations, emotions, feeling-tones, and so on primarily in mind. But thinking that p (that the gap between n2 and (n + 1)2 is (2n + 1)) or remembering that q is as much an experiential matter as feeling pain (perhaps while being born) or hearing a blackbird’s alarm call. There is cognitive phenomenology as well as sensory phenomenology. Episodes of conscious thought are experiential episodes with cognitive experiential content. Experience is as much cognitive as sensory. It includes everything a bat or a new born baby can feel, and everything a great mathematician can experience in thinking.

     This is, perhaps, widely acknowledged. But [cut1] here I want to consider the disputed case of meaning-experience, by which I mean the experience of consciously entertaining and understanding specific cognitive or conceptual contents or of understanding words spoken or read. Such meaning-experiences have, in David Pitt’s phrase, a ‘proprietary phenomenology’—a phenomenology wholly distinct from that of the sensory and feeling-tone modalities.[27]


This claim has been well defended in the last decade[28] and is increasingly gaining acceptance, but it is still doubted by many (Ryle and Wittgenstein are the main causes of this, whether or not they are to blame for it) and is worth a brief defence. Consider, then, your hearing and understanding this sentence and the next. Clearly this hearing and understanding—it is going on at this very moment—is part of the course of your experience. Equally clearly, the conceptual content of the sentences is playing a large—dominant—part in determining the overall qualitative character of this particular stretch of the course of your experience, although you may also be aware of the page and the print, sunshine, birdsong, your body, and so on. The word ‘qualitative’ is strictly speaking redundant, here, given the definition of ‘experience’ in §1, but it is worth using it at least once because one difficulty people have with the notion of cognitive phenomenology is with the idea that it too is ultimately a matter—to repeat the pleonasm—of the qualitative character of experience.[29]


All this is obvious to unprejudiced reflection, but it is very hard to pin down the contribution to the character of your experience that is being made by the content of the sentence in such a way as to be able to take it as the object of reflective thought (it is far easier to do this in the case of the phenomenological character of an experience of yellow). In fact, when it comes to the attempt to figure to oneself the phenomenological character of understanding a sentence like ‘Consider, then, your reading and understanding this sentence and the next’ it seems that all one can usefully do is rethink the sentence as a whole, comprehendingly, in a way that leaves one no mental room to take the phenomenological character of one’s understanding of the sentence, redelivered to one by this rethinking, as the principal object of one’s attention.[30]


For all that, the reality of meaning-experience remains beyond doubt. It can be sufficiently indicated by pointing out that the experiential difference between your hearing and understanding the sentence ‘Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is not a late work; he was working on it as early as 1749’ and your hearing and understanding the sentence ‘This sentence is a sentence of English’ is not just a matter of the different auditory experiences you have in the two cases. Nor is it, in the reading case, just a matter of the different shapes and/or silently entertained sounds of the words. It is also, and much more importantly, a matter of their cognitive content.


I use undramatic sentences to make the point, rather than sentences like ‘A thousand bonobos shot past on fluorescent green bicycles’, because in talking of cognitive phenomenology or meaning-experience one is emphatically not concerned with any of the imagistic or emotional experiences that can accompany the thinking of thoughts or understanding of words (often in such a way that they seem somehow integral to the semantic understanding). I am trying to point up something else, something that is equally real and definite although it can seem troublesomely intangible when we try to reflect about it: the experience that is standardly involved in the mere comprehending of words (read, thought, or heard), where this comprehending is considered quite independently of any imagistic or emotional accompaniments.[31]


[[I will take another run at this. Suppose I say ‘This sentence has five words’, or ‘To study is to love, and there is no relief in love’. Suppose you are attending. Your experience has a certain overall character between the time I start and the time I finish. It almost certainly involves some sensory awareness of your surroundings and of your bodily state. It involves hearing sounds like the sounds produced when someone with a voice like mine says ‘This sentence has five words’, or ‘To study is to love, and there is no relief in love’. But there is more: there is the way your experience is specifically in virtue of the fact that you understand what is said.[32] Consider the difference between my saying ‘I’m reading War and Peace’ and my saying ‘tatooli mangbalang’. All this is obvious on reflection—it is happening now—, but philosophers have denied it vehemently and, it must be said, scornfully; so it needs to be said.[33]


[[190One way to make the point is to observe that one often reads or hears words or thinks thoughts that are extraordinarily interesting, absorbing, and so on. They are experienced as interesting. This is a fact about the character of experience. It is logically possible that you are interested in what you are reading at this moment. If so, your being interested must be a response to something about the character (pleonastically, the qualitative character) that your experience has for you now as you have it. What is it in the content of your experience that it is a response to (rhetorical question)? Forget the present moment. At some time in your life you have read a book or listened to spoken words because the content conveyed by them was incredibly interesting. Why did you continue to read or listen? What was it about the (qualitative) character of your experience that made you continue? Was it merely the sensory content of the visual or auditory goings on? Obviously not. Certainly the experience was pleasurable. Was it pleasurable just because of the sensory content of the visual or auditory goings on? Obviously not.]]


Note finally that while it is important to have a good grasp of the notion of cognitive phenomenology when thinking about intentionality, basic intentionality is prior to anything like the meaning-experience. The basic case of intentionality is the mere making of contact, in some experiential manner (sense, perception, thought) with things or properties, without necessarily engaging in any distinctively propositional activity of mind (§4). Basic intentionality is just awareness-of (§3), available to neonates, available to the most primitive experiential creatures that can truly be said to have experience of objects or properties in the world.[34]


9 Purely experiential content


For decades analytic philosophy has tended to separate the notion of cognitive, conceptual content sharply from the notion of experience,[35] so that it sounds very odd to many to say that the experience of seeing yellow and the experience of now understanding this very sentence, or of thinking that nobody could have had different parents, are alike in respect of having a certain qualitative character. And yet they are. They fall equally into the vast category of experiential episodes that have a certain experiential qualitative character. They fall into this category however much they may also differ from each other. One can measure how far someone has really absorbed the ostensibly widely acknowledged point that experience is as much cognitive as sensory by considering whether that person has really ceased to have difficulty with the idea that the experience of thinking consciously that nobody could have had different parents is, considered just as an experience, just a matter of qualitative character. I tried to make the general point more palatable in the last section, but I think it remains difficult in the current climate of philosophical thought.[36]


[[One of the difficulties that some philosophers have with the idea of the qualitative character of conscious thought, where thought is considered specifically in its cognitive being (and, hence, independently of any imagistic, emotional, etc phenomenology it may also involve) stems from the fact that thoughts are semantically evaluable—assessable as true or false. This can lead them to suppose that even when thought experiences are considered just with respect to their experiential character, their nature and content essentially transcend qualitative character. Some, indeed, may think that philosophers who insist on the richness of the purely experiential content of episodes of conscious thought are subject to illusion, an illusion that arises because they surreptitiously and illegitimately smuggle the richness of the external world into their conception of such purely experiential content.

To combat this one needs to make vivid, in a familiar way, the fact that the richness of experiential content is something that it has just as ‘purely experiential content’. And for this it is enough to consider your Vat-Twin, whose experience is by hypothesis identical to your own in every respect, or your Instant-Twin, who has just come into existence, identical to you in every respect. Or the old point that it is conceivable that you yourself have just come into existence (whether fully embodied or as a ‘brain in a vat’). Whatever story one favours, or is prepared to tolerate,[37] the fact remains that it is conceivable that there is no world of the sort one believes to exist. One’s current experience may be of lying in bed in the dark at night. One thinks about one’s childhood, the Dow Jones, fishcakes. It is possible that none of these things exist; that there is no such thing as the English language. There is, for sure, one’s stream of experience, with all the extraordinarily complex and apparently world-involving content that it has for one as one has it. But it is conceivable that it should exist without the existence of the world that it appears to be about.[38]]]


In sum: episodes of conscious thought are contentfully rich considered just in respect of their purely experiential content, and hence considered wholly independently of their causes or non-experiential being. And this richness is, in the end, just a matter of qualitative character. (What else could it possibly be?) It is just a matter of experiential what-it’s-like-ness for a subject from moment to moment. This what-it’s-like-ness is indubitably real, whatever else is or is not real, and it is (by definition) all there is to episodes of conscious thought considered just in respect of their purely experiential content.[39]


Here we find all the internal intentionality, all the phenomenological intentionality that Brian Loar has so eloquently characterized[40]—all the (phenomenological) directedness, all the purporting-to-be-about, that you and your Instant-Twin and Vat-Twin have wholly in common in spite of the great differences in your success in actually referring to things, being aware of things, having thoughts about things (one might call it ‘Vat-intentionality’). All you have over them, by virtue of being in the real world (and long established there), is a different aetiology for your mental states, a difference in causes: genuine external intentionality as well as internal phenomenological intentionality. Your thought is about Mount Fuji, their thoughts are not. You are aware of Mount Fuji, mentally in touch with it, they are not. (An experienceless robot’s states may also be about Mount Fuji, but they cannot be intentional states in the terminology I favour.)


10 The sense in which all mentally contentful phenomena are experiential phenomena


Now for the view that—the sense in which—all truly, genuinely, intrinsically, categorically,[41] mentally contentful phenomena, and hence all intentionality phenomena, are experiential phenomena [MC4]. I say ‘the sense in which’ because all I’m really doing is offering a way of putting things that certainly says something true when its terms are accepted, although many may find its terms unacceptable. I’m not really going to argue for this view, I’m just going to expound it. As already remarked, there isn’t much arguing to round here.

     Before going on note an interesting weaker thesis: according to which all truly mentally contentful phenomena are at least occurrent phenomena whether or not they are necessarily also experiential phenomena. (Real content is live!) This thesis may well be coupled with the view that any non-experiential occurrent phenomena that are plausible candidates for being truly mentally contentful phenomena must at least occur in an experiencing being [=MC5]. It is I think well worth the time of day, but I will put aside here.[42]


In The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way Jerry Fodor writes that


our pretheoretical, ‘folk’ taxonomy of mental states conflates two quite different natural kinds: the intrinsically intentional ones, of which beliefs, desires, and the like are paradigms; and the intrinsically conscious ones, of which sensations, feelings, and the like are paradigms.


He xxxobserves that some intentional states are conscious, and adds a footnote:


It is rather an embarrassment for cognitive science that any intentional mental states are conscious. ‘Why aren’t they all unconscious if so many of them are?’ is a question that cognitive science seems to raise but not to answer. Since, however, I haven’t got the slightest idea what the right answer is, I propose to ignore it.[43]


But if cognitive science raises this question about intentional states perhaps it also raises the opposite question


Why aren’t they all conscious if so many of them are—all the tens of thousands of perceptions and conscious thoughts that fill every waking day?


And perhaps the best answer to give to this question, all things considered, is that they are all conscious: strictly speaking every genuine intentional state is a conscious state.


I’m not trying to be iconoclastic, for this is, surely, the majority view (the preferred terminology) from Aristotle to Avicenna to Brentano to about 50% of present-day analytic philosophers.[44] I really do think it is the best way to put things, once one has become clear about the existence—and centrality to our lives—of cognitive phenomenology (§7). Talking to you now, it is true to say of me—true without qualification—that I have thousands of beliefs about things of which I am at present in no way conscious.[45] Obviously. But it just doesn’t follow that I GS am now in any genuinely or intrinsically (etc.) contentful mental states that are about these things. And it seems plain that I am not. Uncritical use of the expression ‘mental state’ in the philosophy of mind has done amazing damage.[46] Many talk in a strongly reificatory way about mental states as if they were things in us, rather than states we are in, and this, stitched in with the whole long behaviourist-functionalist-strong-representationalist folly, has greatly eased the way to finding it natural to conceive of beliefs, belief states, and so on, as mentally contentful somethings that are ‘in us’ and are rightly thought of as intrinsically mentally contentful quite independently of our present experience.[47] Facilis descensus Averno philosophico.


Consider Louis, a representative human being, lying for our theoretical convenience in dreamless sleep during a thirty-second period of time t. Consider the portion of (concrete, physical) reality that consists of Louis, which I will call the Louis-reality—the L-reality for short (it is a rough notion, for as a physical being Louis is enmeshed in wide-reaching physical interactions, but it is serviceable and useful none the less).


Here is Louis.[48] We truly ascribe beliefs, preferences and many other so-called ‘propositional attitudes’ to him as he lies there at t, and he undoubtedly has tens, hundreds of thousands of dispositions to behave in all sorts of ways, verbal and non-verbal. Many, many disposition-ascribing mental predicates are true of him, true without qualification. Many propositional-content-ascribing predicates (e.g. ‘believes that p’, ‘prefers p’s being the case to q’s being the case, and so on) are true of him. True enough. But there aren’t strictly speaking any truly mentally contentful (or genuinely intentional) entities in experienceless Louis, on the present view.[49]


So what it is about him, lying experiencelessly there at t, that makes it true to say that he believes that Mount Fuji is in Australia or that every even number greater than two is the sum of two different prime numbers? More particularly: What is it in the L-reality that makes this true? Answer: a certain arrangement or synergy of neurons in a certain state.[50] Call this arrangement of neurons in a certain state N. By hypothesis N is not—does not constitute—a conscious, experiential state. Is N none the less a genuinely mentally contentful, intentional entity? Is it, considered in its total intrinsic being, which is wholly non-experiential being, intrinsically directed at something? Surely not—whatever has caused it to exist as it does. Louis’s brain has by hypothesis only non-experiential being at t, and we can imagine that it is (at t) something whose properties are in principle wholly capturable by the terms and techniques of neurophysiology and physics. Will they reveal any mental content, or intentionality at t? No.


Many, many things are going on in Louis’s brain, but nothing experiential is going on. Is anything intrinsically mentally contentful going on—going on? The phrase ‘going on’ makes it much more natural to say No. But now (shifting into a larger metaphysical frame) consider the point that there is a fundamental sense in which Louis’s having the beliefs he has at t is itself wholly a matter of things going on: the unceasing sub-atomic furore, the unremitting atomic, molecular, cellular, neuronal, macroelectrical, chemical activity—all a matter of humming fields in the quantum vacuum, nothing truly intuitively solid to be found. The very existence of matter—matter in time, matter-in-time—is fundamentally just a question of process, of things going on. If so, there is a fundamental sense in which what makes ascriptions of belief states to dreamless Louis true at t is wholly a matter of goings on in his brain at t, and we can ask again ‘Are these goings on really a matter of truly mentally contentful goings on?’ I don’t think so.


Take your superpsychocerebroscope and aim it at Louis’s brain. One switch, two positions A and B. A reveals all experiential goings on, B reveals all non-experiential goings on. You switch it to A: nothing. You switch it to B: all the unbelievably complex goings on accounted for in a perfected physics.[51] Question: does it, when switched to B, reveal any truly mentally contentful goings whose contents are what make the thousands of dispositional mental predicates that are true of Louis true of him? No, say I.[52]


Imagine a future prosthesis that gives you immediate mental access to a database carried on a hard disk stitched in under your ribs (one had to go to make way, it’s happened before). It’s great (or is it?): if someone asks you what the atomic numbers of mercury and platinum are, and your wetware doesn’t know, it comes to your mind that they are 78 and 80 respectively as easily as the atomic number of gold (etched into your brain by years of analytic philosophy). Certainly the information on the disk isn’t intrinsically mentally contentful before you plug in. So does it become so immediately you plug in? (We plugged in dreamless Louis at t1 without him feeling a thing.) It’s hard to see how one could say No, on the view according to which dispositional phenomena can be intrinsically mentally contentful. And I think that should be worrying.[53]


Dreamless Louis keeps things simple, but you can also aim the superpsychocerebroscope at people who are awake and alert. You will then find truly mentally contentful goings on—their current experience—but you will not find any that make it the case that the many thousands of standing beliefs (etc) that are truly ascribable to them are truly ascribable to them.


I think Searle has something like this in mind when he says that ‘what is going on in the brain is neurophysiological processes [here he means non-experiential goings on] and consciousness [experience] and nothing more’:[54] when there is no consciousness or experience there is only non-experiential neurophysiological process; hence there is no intrinsic content or intentionality.


At certain points, however, Searle seems to want to say that although states of belief are non-experiential they are none the less intrinsically intentional states.[55] I deny this, but it may well be that we differ only in emphasis, for he goes on to say that


the ontology of mental states, at the time they are unconscious, consists entirely in the existence of purely neurophysiological phenomena.[56]


Here again by ‘purely neurophysiological phenomena’ he means non-experiential phenomena, and I take the point to be that they are phenomena that cannot really be said to be intrinsically mentally contentful or (a fortiori) genuinely intentional, considered in themselves, in their total physical being, any more than a CD can be said to be intrinsically musically contentful, considered in itself. One’s dispositions—Louis’s dispositions—may be what they may be; but neural phenomena in the absence of experiential phenomena aren’t intrinsically about anything, any more than words in a book are.[57]


The claim, then, is that all true, actual, mental content is, necessarily, (occurrent) experiential content, and that there isn’t any in the L-reality at t.[58] A state of belief—a state of Louis in virtue of which it is true to say that he believes that p at t—is not a matter of occurrent experiential mental content, and there is no other kind (putting aside the weaker thesis that mental content must be occurrent, but perhaps need not also be experiential ). The incredibly natural picture according to which it is just obvious that there is no real, actual mental content in the L-reality at t has become almost invisible to many present-day analytic philosophers. But from the perspective of this picture, the (standard) view that there is mental content in the L-reality at t1 is like the view that there are intrinsically breakage-involving states or goings on in an fragile but undisturbed object.


—But ordinary thought endorses the view that there are intrinsically mentally contentful stat inside the head of dreamless Louis, and that philosophy should always treat the opinions of ordinary thought with respect.


True, but, first, ordinary thought is no good general guide to philosophical or scientific truth. Second, even if ordinary thought does unequivocally endorse the view that there are intrinsically mentally contentful states in dreamless Louis, I very much doubt that it endorses the view that dispositional states are intrinsically mentally contentful. This point is hidden by the current terminology of analytic philosophy, because it takes over sthe ordinary words ‘belief’ and ‘believe’, uses them for things it classifies as (merely) dispositional states, and unwittingly loses touch with ordinary thought, which (it seems to me) thinks that there are intrinsically mentally contentful states in dreamless Louis only in so far as it pictures them non-dispositionally, as little sentences, little packets of intrinsic content, laid up in the head, available for activation by consciousness, the ground of any relevant dispositional truths.



—Look, sometimes we move straight to action on the basis of our beliefs and preferences without any conscious contentful experiential episodes at all. We do A because we believe B and like C (this being a straightforwardly true explanation of our action, true in an ‘interpretationism-free’ sense, as true as ‘squares have four sides’). How can you possibly say that B and C are not themselves contentful states, given that they have this explanatory role?

My squabblesome terminology says that these are not truly mentally contentful states, and that if you insist that they are then you will have to allow that experienceless robots and pocket calculators can be in truly mentally contentful states in every sense in which we can. [[compare Jerry Fodor, email correspondence July 3 02: “I think the null hypothesis is that there isn't  (that is, needn't be) any difference between a robot thinking `it's raining' and me thinking `it's raining'. I think that must be right because I don't think my thoughts are usually conscious (or, anyhow, consciously noticed); and, surely, my thought that it's raining is the thought that it's raining, whether or not I'm aware of having it.”]] You may rule out the robots by saying that a state S can be a truly mentally contentful state only if it occurs in an experiencing being (=MC5) ; but then you will have to square that (utterly plausible) ruling with your insistence that experienceless arrangements of matter (whether neural, silicon-and-metal, tin-can-constituted etc.) can be truly mentally contentful; and I don’t see how you can (I don’t think a Searlean ‘Connection Principle’ will do, and nor does Freud).

Can we meet in the middle? You could concede to me that dispositional states cannot be mentally contentful, that only occurrent states can be (you point out that there are plenty of those to be found between the dormant dispositions B and C and the occurrence of A), and you could ask me to concede in return that non-experiential occurrent states as well as experiential states can be mentally contentful (That, you say, is how the problem you had when you went to sleep was solved when you woke up in the morning even though none of your dreams were about it; it’s also how you stayed on the road yesterday afternoon when possessed by the problem).

I’m eirenic, but my terminology is adamant. If occurrent non-experiential states are truly mentally contentful, then they can be found in robots and calculators. But they can’t; so they aren’t. [[Fodor contraposes: they are, so they can.]] Excluding the experienceless by MC5 invites the same response as before.]]










































11 Intentionality ≠ aboutness


So much for background. I am now going to stage a Terminologiefest. Many like to say that intentionality is just aboutness or ofness, but I am going to put things differently—at least until §18. I think the outright intentionality/aboutness equation can set up bad habits of thought, elide distinctions and conceal—beg—a central question. For while it’s obvious, terminological habituation aside, that intentionality is a mental phenomenon, that that’s part of what ‘intentionality’—‘intentionality’ no less—means, it’s also pretty irresistible to say that non-mental phenomena like films, photographs, mirrors, puddles, books, pictures, road signs and so on can be or contain representations of things or can be about things. So I will call intentionality, which is an essentially mental phenomenon, ‘intentionality’ tout court, while allowing that aboutness-or-ofness, ‘aboutness’ for short, is not necessarily a mental phenomenon and has a much wider range. A pool can reflect Mount Fuji and in that sense constitute or give rise to a representation of Mount Fuji just as a photograph can. A mirror can reflect an image of you so that there is a representation of you right in front of you.[59]


Some may want to say that a mirror or its states cannot really have aboutness because it cannot behave in any way (in some this impulse is deep). But then they will have to deny aboutness to photographs and films, which are indisputably about or of things. And this is not because they have what is sometimes called ‘derived intentionality’ (see the next section). They no more have derived intentionality than a crack in the curtains that functions fortuitously as a camera obscura, casting a perfect upside-down image of the view from a window onto the opposite wall. You don’t need to have someone who intends to take a photograph of X, or indeed of anything, to get a photograph of X.


—Cameras are designed to do what they do. That’s why films and photographs have derived intentionality, in having aboutness.


A thing physically identical to a loaded and functioning camera could conceivably come into existence by cosmic accident and produce admirable films and photographs. These would no more have derived intentionality than all the naturally occurring camerae obscurae in the world.


12 ‘Intrinsic’ intentionality, ‘derived’ ‘intentionality’


[[360What about this distinction between ‘intrinsic’ and ‘derived’ intentionality? I have defined intentionality in such a way that all intentionality is intrinsic on the terms of the intrinsic/derived distinction, so I have no need for it as it stands, but I can distinguish between derived and underived aboutness—books and tapes of talks have the former, mirrors and photographs the latter,[60] and it is worth setting out the standard distinction.


If, acquainted with Mount Fuji, I type a one-page description of it, I produce something—a piece of paper P1 with marks on it—that is indubitably about Mount Fuji. So if you favour a terminology according to which intentionality just is aboutness, so that non-mental states and beings can be said to have intentionality, then you are committed to saying that P1 has intentionality. But P1 has intentionality only because of my intentions in making the marks I made: only because of the nature of certain (Mount-Fuji-directed) mental states S1 I was in when I wrote what I wrote. It does not have intrinsic intentionality, only derived intentionality. In this idiom, anything that has derived X-intentionality must be produced by something that is or has been in intrinsically X-intentional states, and must stand in the same sort of relation (it is at least a causal relation) to those states as P1 stands to S1.


Imagine, after all, an object P2 qualitatively identical to P1 that comes into existence by cosmic accident. It looks just like P1, but P1 is about Mount Fuji and P2 is not. Imagine a computer programmed to send random sequences of shapes to a printer that produces a piece of paper P3 on which the marks are qualitatively indistinguishable from the marks on P1; and so on. Neither P2 nor P3 is about Mount Fuji, although both would suffice to allow someone who took them to Japan to identify Mount Fuji. (Would any of P2-P4 come to be about Mount Fuji if accidentally inserted into the camera ready copy for a guide book to Japan at just the point at which P1 was meant to be inserted? You can say what one like, I think.)]]



13 Liberal aboutness


So aboutness is liberal, catholic, ecumenical, in my terminology. If you want to say that a thermostat has aboutness, fine. You can say that it contains a representation of temperature. One can say the same sort of thing about a phototropic beetle that has, let us suppose, no experience, even if one is unsure about sunflowers. Perhaps one can say that the fingerprint on the guitar, which makes it possible to pick you out from 6 billion others, has aboutness (the guitar carries information that uniquely identifies you). Perhaps one can say it about tree rings. According to Mach’s Principle ‘the slopping of your drink in…a…lurching aeroplane is attributable to the influence of all the matter in the universe’.[61] So if one accepts Mach’s Principle one may want to say that everything is about everything else.[62] One may also want to say that R1, an experienceless robot that travels round a room littered with multicoloured geometrical shapes picking up all and only the blue cubes and dropping them in a box, is in states that have aboutness.


14 Robots and aboutness


R1, also known as Luke, is built and programmed by us to perform the cube task straight out of the box. Among its variants is R2, hardware-identical to R1 but ‘programmed’ by a freak burst of radiation that makes it software-identical and hence behaviourally-identical to R1. Then there is R3, hardware-identical to R1 and programmed by us, not in such a way that it can perform the cube task straight off, but rather in such a way that it learns to perform the cube task. And then there is R4, also known as Fluke, physically (hardware and software) identical to R1 although it came into existence by cosmic fluke. R5, physically (hardware and software) identical to R3, also came into existence by cosmic accident.


None of R1-R5 have or can intentionality on the present terms, but what about aboutness? I don’t really mind what one says. I’m being tight with intentionality and am happy to be loose with aboutness. Some may say No to all of R1-R5. Some may say No to R2 and R4 and Yes to R1, R3 and R5. Some may say Yes only to R1 and R3 (a kind of ‘derived’ ‘intentionality’ filtering through in R3’s case).


Table 1


15 Key terms


Here now are the key terms, the first three of which I have already introduced.


I: intentionality, genuine intentionality, necessarily a mental matter. This natural use in no way belittles the talents and riches of thermostats, robots, books, films, and so on.


A: aboutness, allowed to reflections in puddles, road signs, thermostats, etc, as a matter of definition. (‘Aboutness’ behaves like the common unhelpful wide use of ‘intentionality’ in philosophy.)


E: experience: all the phenomena of consciousness, of ‘phenomenology’ including ‘cognitive phenomenology’ (§7)


To these I now add


R: a representation is necessarily a representation of something. A representation is not just any sort of content (this is an abuse of words). Nor is every content a representation (’representationalism’ is false if it says this).




C: content. I take this term as it stands to include even the content of a bucket, but what is in question in this context is either


RC: representational content, which is necessarily of or about something




MC: mental content. experiential content (cognitive-phenomenological content, sensory content, mood content, etc), also non-experiential propositional/cognitive content.


My overall (terminologico-substantive) position can be set out in a table (I use ‘of course’ rather than ‘yes’ where I take a particular claim to be undisputed by all serious participants in the debate).  [Table 2 about here]









of course

of course

of course






of course

of course







of course














of course

of course

C as RC



of course



C as MC








or in a list




Text Box: I
I1	[I  ® A]			of course
I2	[I  ® R]			of course
I3	[I  ® C]			of course
I4	[I  ® E]			yes(!) (negotiable)
I5	[I  ® EB]			yes 

A1  [A ®  I]			no
A2  [A ® R]			of course
A3  [A ® C]			of course
A4  [A ® E]			no
A5  [A ® EB]			no

R1	[R ®  I]			no
R2	[R ® A]			yes (a genuine R is by definition an R of  something)
R3	[R ® C]			of course
R4	[R ® E]			no
R5	[R ® EB]			no

E1  [E ®  I]				no
E2  [E ® A]				no
E3  [E ® R]				no
E4  [E ® C]				of course
E5  [E ® EB]			of course

C1  	[C ®  I]			no
C2  	[C ® A]			no
C3  	[C ® R]			no (see comment on [R2])
C4  	[C ® E]			no (arguably yes if C is taken to be mental content)
C5  	[C ® EB]			no (yes is C is taken to be mental content)

RC1	[RC ®  I]		no
RC2	[RC ® A]		yes (by definition) 
RC3	[RC ® R]		of course
RC4	[RC ® E]		no (arguably yes if RC is taken to be mental content)
RC5	[RC ® EB]		no (yes if RC is taken to be mental content)

[MC1]  [MC ® I]		no
[MC2]  [MC ® A]	no 
[MC3]  [MC ® R]	no
[MC4]  [MC ® E]		yes(!)  (controversial)
[MC5]  [MC ® EB]	yes





























15 Some comments

[[xxxwork in progress]]


Perhaps the first thing to say is that to allow aboutness to experienceless beings and their states (A4) while denying them intentionality (I4) is not to downplay the connection between aboutness and intentionality. One might even say that states that have aboutness have everything needed for intentionality except experientiality. Robot Luke’s states have true aboutness, given the present terminology, and so do my states as I look for blue cubes. The difference is only that my states have intentionality and Luke’s do not. (I will try to address a problem this raises in the final section.)


In line 3, I take it to be clear that


R2     [R ® A]


not, importantly, because ‘representation’ is a de facto synonym of ‘content’ and ‘representationalism’ is right to hold that every content has representational content, but (once again) simply because anything that is a representation is necessarily a representation of something.


In line 4, I take all of C1, C2 and C3 to be false. As for


C1     [C ® I]


contents—e.g. the contents of a book or photo—aren’t necessarily mental or experiential, and so aren’t intentional even if they have aboutness.


As for


C3     [C ® R]


not all contents are representational; again, ‘representation’ is not some sort of synonym for ‘content’ (a ruinous word-fudge), and a content needn’t be a representation. The Abstract Expressionists were not wrong about this. A musical note, whether considered as a pattern of airwaves or as an experiential content, as heard, need not be—is not—a representation of anything. A taste need not be—is not—a representation of anything. Any theory that suggests otherwise is false and word-bending.


As for


C2     [C ® A]


contents needn’t be about anything at all. This is clearly true of the contents of pockets, packets, buckets, baskets and stomachs, but even if we restrict our attention to mental contents they needn’t be about anything. A sensation of physical pain is experienced as having a location, and it has a physical cause, and is itself a physical entity,[63] but its sensory-experiential qualitative content isn’t about that location, or about that cause, or about itself. It just isn’t about anything, and this is plain to unprejudiced (terminologically straight) reflection. The same holds for the sensory-experiential qualitative character of yellow-experience.


This is not to deny that the overall experiential qualitative character of a yellow-experience may involve a sense of aboutness (directedness, internal intentionality), and may also have full external aboutness (and hence full intentionality) in being actually about a feature of the world. Nor is it to deny that to be aware of anything is to be in an state with aboutness, with or without any internal intentionality (§4):  if a new born baby is aware of something yellow, then it is in an aboutness state specifically in having yellow-experience.


The overall experiential qualitative character of yellow-experience may very well have aboutness, then; but it need not. Suppose our universe is a black-and-white universe, i.e. a universe in which all sentient creatures see only in black-grey-white, although we humans sometimes have colour experiences—red, green, yellow—with our eyes shut in the dark or in dreams. I take it that the experience of yellow would not represent anything at all (though see three paragraphs below) . Would it represent whatever caused it to occur? It might be a reliable sign of its cause to the learned, but it would not represent it; it would not be a representation of it.[64] Would it represent the brain condition that it was? No, it would simply be the brain condition that it was. Can’t a thing represent itself? Certainly. A sentence can represent itself (‘This very sentence is puzzling’), and perhaps a picture can, featuring a picture of itself.[65] But the sensation of yellow, in this story, or indeed any other, is not a case of this kind.


‘Representation’ and ‘representational’ are ‘success’ or ‘factive’ words. If a content is a representation of Q, then Q exists. If a content seems to be a representation of something but there does not in fact exist anything of which it is a representation, then it is not really a representation after all. A thing can’t be a representation unless something exists for it to be a representation of.[66]


But is it even possible for a content to seem to be a representation of something without there being anything of which it is a representation? Arguably not. The thought makes perfect sense—is true—in many ordinary speech contexts, but it can be illuminatingly denied in some philosophical contexts. Thus of every content (e.g. a hallucination, or a thought about Father Christmas) that seems to be a representation of something although it is naturally said not to be of anything, one can say that it is always at least a representation of a content-type or idea-type, where the type is to be grasped by considering its exemplification in whoever’s content is in question. One can say the same about yellow-experience in the black-and-white universe.[67]


I think this may be all one needs to say about the whole miasma of ‘intentional inexistence’.


In line 5, I take it that


E3   [E ® C]


is obviously true,[68] while all of E1, E2 and E4 are false. As for


E4 [E ® R]


all experiences have content, but not all contents are representations, for all love (still less is content nothing but representation). E4 raises the same issues as C3, and I propose to repeat myself. Consider an experience that consists of a very peculiar sensation, S, of elation. It may be caused by a very specific bodily condition (it is itself a bodily—neural—condition), and it may be a sure indicator of the presence of that condition for those in the know, but it is not a representation of it in any remotely natural use of the word ‘representation’, any more than a particular sort of flame is a representation of an act of match striking. Nor is the experiential qualitative character of S a representation of the non-experiential being of the physical thing S itself is.[69] Nor is it a representation of the sensation-type of which it is an instance. It is just an instance of it. S’s experiential qualitative character is what it is, it is its experiential content, and it doesn’t represent anything at all. To think otherwise is pure Procrusteanism.[70]


The converses of E2-E4, i.e. C4, A4, and R4, are also false on the present terms—even when we exclude the content of buckets and baskets and restrict ourselves to representational content, books, pictures, mirrors, puddles, mirrors, robots, and so on.


I4    [[I ® E]


is also widely held to be false, on the ground that beliefs are intentional mental states and that Louis has beliefs about things even when he is in dreamless sleep, but I have proposed (in §9) that it is true: that only occurrent and indeed experiential phenomena have genuine intentionality.[71] If you think this is silly (and not just false, say), I think that this is only because you have acquired different terminological habits.


What, finally, about ‘representational content’ and ‘mental content’? There are no surprises here. When we replace ‘content’ with ‘representational content’ we get


RC1  [RC ®  I]              no

RC2  [RC ® A]        yes

RC3  [RC ® R]         (of course)

RC4  [RC ® E]              no

RC5  [RC ® EB]      no


and when replace ‘content’ with ‘mental content’ we get


MC1  [MC  ® I]      no

MC2  [MC ® A]          no

MC3  [MC ® R]      no

MC4  [MC ® E]      yes(!)

MC5  [MC ® EB]         yes


Comparing this with the original claims about content


C1  [C ®  I]                   no

C2  [C ® A]                  no

C3  [C ® R]                   no

C4  [C ® E]                   no

C5  [C ® EB]            no


The three switches from No to Yes in lines 2, 4 and 5, as we move from the C claims to the RC and MC claims, are immediately comprehensible. As for C2 and RC2, content doesn’t imply aboutness but representational content does. As for C4 and MC4, this is the position argued for in §9. As for C5 and MC5, content doesn’t imply an experiential being but mental content does. Many fruitless misunderstandings (some are very fruitful) have arisen because of blurrings between different uses of ‘content’.


Intentionality and experience


May we now at last begin? I think we may—if we have not already finished. And the questions we come back to are simple. On my terms only experiential states are properly called intentional states, but a large and substantive question remains: What exactly is the nature of the relation between experience and intentionality—whether we are considering a blue cube, Cube, that we can see right in front of us, Mount Fuji ten thousand miles away, the tallest tree in the Amazonian jungle (assumed to exist, location unknown), marshmallow camshafts, p, or round squares? What exactly does my conscious thinking about Cube add to everything in robots Luke and Fluke that is involved in their efficient search for Cube, their successful location of it, and their depositing it in the box? What exactly does my conscious experience add to my thinking about p, given that Luke and Fluke (now equipped with a maths module add-on) are now smoothly engaged in calculating p’s decimal expansion?[72]


I will mostly restrict my attention to concrete intentionality, intentionality with respect to real, concrete phenomena, present or absent. Some may think that ignoring thoughts about marshmallow camshafts and so on must distort any treatment of intentionality, and certainly there is more to say about such things (if the paragraph on p. xxx isn’t enough), but I will put them aside for now.


Let me establish a basic case. A and B are both are having qualitatively identical experience—call it ‘X-experience’. It is experience as of thinking about, and perhaps visualizing, a statue. In fact, it is just like the experience someone might have if thinking about, and perhaps visualizing, a certain real statue X on Easter Island. And in fact A’s X-experience has normal causal links to seeing X or pictures of X, reading about X, and so on, although A has no memory of where X is. B’s X-experience is caused by a freak brainstorm.


A’s X-experience is about X; it has classic intentionality with respect to X. B’s X-experience isn’t; it has no intentionality with respect to X. It is not about any concrete object, although B thinks it is. So the two experiences differ dramatically in their aboutness and intentionality. But the only relevant difference between them lies in their causes; it does not (by hypothesis) lie in their intrinsic experiential qualitative character as experiences. Nor is there any relevant difference between A and B so far as their behavioural dispositions (including their mental-activity dispositions) are concerned, for we may suppose that they are identical in this respect.[73] It is the difference in the causes of their experiences that makes the difference in respect of X-intentionality.


It is useful to ask why A’s X-experience is about X and B’s is not because it is so obvious that the difference between them can only be a matter of the difference in their causes. And the causal difference that explains why A’s X-experience has this aboutness and B’s X-experience does not is not itself philosophically mysterious. It is not significantly different from the causal difference that explains why this picture is a picture of Salome (it is a photograph or portrait of Salome), whereas this qualitatively identical picture is not, since it is a work of pure imagination. We may think ‘How can a thought be about an object?’ or ‘How can one thing possibly be about another at all?’ as if there were some deep further difficulty. But once one has set aside any difficulty raised by the requirement that genuine intentionality involves experience it is arguable that there is as much mystery remaining in the (concrete) intentionality of a thought of an object as there is in the fact that a mirror or an expanse of water can carry a reflection of an object other than itself. Such concrete intentionality is just a matter of routine causation as it affects a certain very special sort of representational system, one that involves experience.[74] Move a mirror or a film camera round a room and it will represent all sorts of things. Move Louis round a room, paralysed and with a fixed gaze, and he will represent all sorts of things. There is far more to Louis’s representations than the camera’s (one can substitute a paralysed baby to reduce the difference along one dimension), but they also have something fundamentally in common (to reduce the difference along another dimension one can substitute a fabulously more complicated but still experienceless future ward-nurse robot with object-recognition, depth-perception, etc software).


17 The No Problem Thesis


‘But how does the thought—the mental episode—make and secure a connection to the thing?’ It doesn’t. No mere act or episode of thought can make such a connection. In the imagined case A and B are identical in respect of the fact that it seems to them that they are mentally in touch with a particular thing. Both have the same experience of subjective conviction that a particular object is targeted in thought; both their mental episodes have internal intentionality, phenomenological purporting-to-be-aboutness, as do the matching mental episodes in their Vat-Twins and Instant-Twins. Only A’s thought really has X-intentionality, but it isn’t as if anything about the total current experiential being (or the total non-experiential neuronal being) of A’s thought episode is sufficient to make it connect unerringly with the thing it purports to be about, for then B’s thought episode would have X-intentionality, just as A’s does, and it does not. None of A’s behavioural (including mental-activity) dispositions make the difference, for B’s are the same. It is, to repeat, mere causal history that makes the difference and makes it true that A’s thought connects to X while B’s does not. Experience may itself be thought especially puzzling, considered as a representational medium, although it is not clear why it should be. So be it. The present claim is just that the fact that A’s mental episode has X-intentionality while B’s does not should not be thought to be part of why A’s is puzzling. If there is a puzzle, it is all there in B. If there’s a puzzle, it is just a matter of the experiential qualitative character of certain sorts of experience—the phenomenological fact that such thoughts can have the quality of directedness or purporting-to-be-aboutness, where this is a phenomenological quality, even if there is nothing they are actually about.[75]


This is the No Problem Thesis (the thesis that there is no special deep extra puzzle raised by the existence of intentionality over and above any puzzle that is raised by the existence of experience), still waiting for its final defence. Intentionality raises no special puzzle for materialism or ‘naturalism’ over and above any puzzle raised by the existence of experience and its many modes and forms: yellow-experience, depression-experience, X-experience, thinking-that-p-experience, and so on.[76] And it is unclear why we should find the experiential qualitative character of intentionality-involving experience any more fundamentally puzzling than the experiential qualitative character of merely sensory, non-intentionality-involving experience, even if its content wonderfully more complicated. Is it fundamentally puzzling that Fido can think about Felix, and about cats in general, and can believe—know—that you’re going for a walk (perhaps he is physically paralysed but wholly conscious)? If not, why is it fundamentally puzzling in the human as opposed to the canine case? It isn’t. It’s just that the things we can think about are much more complicated, and often extremely puzzling in themselves. But these puzzles are not puzzles about the existence and nature of intentionality, although they are the source of the belief that there is a puzzle about intentionality.


Turning to Luke and Fluke, p and Cube, many are inclined to say, ‘My thought is really about p and about Cube, I really have p and Cube in mind, Luke and Fluke don’t. Their states and operations are not really about p or Cube at all, and the same goes for my classical zombie twin: a creature outwardly and behaviourally identical to me, although not physically identical to me.[77] Its states and operations are not really about anything at all. Only in the experiential case are there truly contentful states that are truly intentional states.’ In this natural way of speaking, intentionality and aboutness, sundered in §10, are reunited again, taken to be the same thing.


This thought is extremely natural and the intuition it expresses is sound, but it raises the following question: How exactly is experience supposed to make the crucial difference in respect of intentionality? The answer seems to be that all experience adds, in bringing about the presence of intentionality, is itself. Experienceless entities can have everything else that could possibly be needed, so far as qualifying for intentionality is concerned. All that is really relevantly extra in the world, in the case of the experiencing beings, is just the occurrence of experience that has a certain more or less complexly contentful experiential qualitative character. I say ‘just’, but it is hardly a small matter, given the staggering phenomenological complexity of human experience, thephenomenological, internal intentionality features.


The claim, then, is that there is (as the No Problem Thesis says) no special problem of intentionality over and above the problem of experience (such as it is), so far as the task of giving a naturalistic, materialistic account of mind is concerned. As Luke, Fluke, and I face Cube, all that is relevantly extra in my case is the presence of experience—my possession of purely experiential content with a certain qualitative character. And it is not as if true intentionality is somehow mysteriously emergent with respect to, and somehow irreducible to, the total phenomenon of


[a] experience with a certain experiential qualitative character


occurring in an entity that also possesses any


[b] non-experiential properties necessary for intentionality,


which I am taking to be describable at a level of generality that allows us to say that we and experienceless machines can have them in common,


together with


[c] certain basic causal-contact properties


also specified at a level of generality that allows us to say that Luke, Fluke and I have them in common, Cubewise. (Obviously we are not exactly the same in relevant causal respects, even when these are generally described, because the causality must flow through to condition my experience, in my case, and there is no experience at all in their case.) Intentionality doesn’t emerge from [a] + [b] + [c] in some mysterious and exciting sense of ‘emerge’.[78] The existence of intentionality simply consistspurely additively—in the existence of the total phenomenon [a] + [b] + [c], and does not in any way transcend it. This just is intentionality, considered as a natural phenomenon. This is my proposal. What else might one suppose there to be?


This fits the No Problem Thesis, for the existence of [b] is complicated but not fundamentally problematic from the naturalistic point of view; the existence of [a] raises no problem other than the problem (if any) of experience—experience with all its astonishingly complicated forms—and thus wholly concords with the thesis; and the existence of [c] is again not fundamentally problematic from the naturalistic point of view. Put experience aside, and everything else about intentionality is a matter of causal relations and non-experiential properties that naturalists already take to be wholly naturalistically tractable. And as for the existence of experience—well, it is, to repeat, no more puzzling, from the point of view of realistic materialism or naturalism, than the existence of a stone. So intentionality analyses into clear components. It falls out rather lightly from the existence of beings that have evolved the capacity to discriminate, classify, represent, and order their environment, and do this in experiential or conscious mode. Any further complications lie only in the complexity of the things we can think about.[79]


—But [a] and[b] ± [c] cannot be supposed to secure or constitute determinacy of content, of the sort we are sure we can attain, for thoughts that purport to be about things.


The reply is simple. It is an illusion to suppose that there is any kind of determinacy of content above and beyond what can be secured or constituted by the existence of [a] and [b] ± [c].[80]


19 ‘Behavioural’ intentionality and real meaning


I want to take a final summary run at the topic. In order to do so I will climb back into the idiom of much present-day discussion and take ‘intentionality’ and ‘aboutness’ to be effectively equivalent terms.


Suppose some continue to insist that experienceless machines can reasonably be said to be in intentional states or have intentionality. We may then reply that these machines can at most have behavioural intentionality, intentionality that is attributable essentially on the basis of their behaviour and causal interactions as they move around or compute things. (The case of undesigned accidental machines like Fluke is the best one to consider.)


If the supporters of the experienceless insist that behavioural intentionality is to be counted as full intentionality, they back No Problem Thesis: there is no deep problem of intentionality when to comes to giving a naturalistic, materialistic account of mind because intentionality can be correctly attributed to certain experienceless (and undesigned) entities simply on the basis of the way they behave. Facts about intentionality are reducible without residue to facts about experienceless mechanism, disposition, and behaviour that are not deeply problematic on any conception (however unrealistic) of the naturalistic, materialist programme in philosophy of mind. Some creatures also have experience, on this view, and there is indeed (according to unrealistic materialism) a special puzzle about the existence of experience, but the intentionality properties of experiencing entities are not deeply problematic, and are indeed quite independent of the fact that they have experience.


Like many others, I think mere behavioural intentionality can never amount to true intentionality, however complex the behaviour, and that one cannot have intentionality unless one is an experiencing being. I think, in fact, that if you allow intentionality to experienceless beings on the basis of their behaviour, then you will not in the end have any good reason to deny it to puddles. I certainly think one should be very impressed by the respects in which behaviourally adept experienceless beings can seem to have perceptual and conceptual intentionality. But when this instructive episode is over an old and rightly irrepressible thought should reassert itself, especially in the case of conceptual intentionality: the thought that there is a fundamental sense in which there is no meaning (or reference) at all, and hence no conceptual intentionality at all, in a world in which there is no consciousness or experience.[81]


On this view, meaning is always a matter of something meaning something to something, the second something being, necessarily, an experiential being. And reference occurs only when an experiential being refers to something. There is no meaning or reference, hence no conceptual intentionality, in an experienceless universe in which the words of the Bill of Rights exist, perfectly formed in 120-point Times Roman, as part of the growth of a fungus; nor in a universe in which behaviourally complex organisms have evolved and pursue intricate survival strategies in interacting with their environment but are experienceless. There is no semantic evaluability, no truth, no falsity, no accuracy or inaccuracy. None of these properties are possessed by anything until experience begins. There is in fact a fundamental sense in which meaning, and hence intentionality, exists only in the conscious present of experience. The conscious moment may seem a most unsatisfactory item from the point of view of theory, but there it is. I think one can’t get far in thinking about intentionality without a vivid appreciation of the sense in which this is true.


20 ‘Yes, but what is the relation between experience and intentionality?’


—You still haven’t given me any clear picture of the relation between experience and intentionality. Imagine a sophisticated creature K that has intensely complex behavioural or ‘as if’ intentionality. It looks after horses, and does so very competently. Imagine further that it has genuine but wholly internally caused colour experience, and no other sort of experience, and that its colour experience plays no part whatever in its capacity to behave just as if it had intentionality. Here the mere presence of experience is obviously not enough to justify the attribution of genuine intentionality. This is obviously not a satisfactory case of [a] + [b] ± [c]. So what is? What more does K need in the way of [a]? What exactly must [a], the experiential-qualitative-character component, be like in the case of any particular genuinely intentional experiential episode E1 on the part of a particular subject of experience S? It must no doubt have external causes, in the case of a thought about an external object, but I’m putting that aside. What I want to know is how exactly [a] contributes to E1’s intentionality, given that S, in having E1, fulfils all the non-experiential properties necessary for E1 to be an intentional episode? And here I am not interested in the primitive sorts of intentionality that you have allowed to new born babies, but in conceptual intentionality—the conceptual intentionality involved in your deploying the concept horse, say,  when seeing a horse, or when mistaking a rock for a horse (K can make the same mistake). Suppose we have a decent account of all the causal and non-experiential conditions whose fulfilment is necessary for a being to count as possessing the concept horse.[82] What are we then to say about experience? How does it fit in? What must the experiential qualitative character of any genuine conscious deployment of horse be like? What is the lower bound on acceptable forms of experience in such a case?


Well, I’m not sure there’s much one can say. One can cite all the vital phenomena of phenomenological directedness or internal intentionality, which are lacking in K’s case, and to do that is already to have done a lot. But it is unclear how one might be much more specific about what it is experientially that distinguishes cases of genuine conscious deployment of concepts like horse from cases, like K’s, in which there is experience of some sort, and all the right ‘as if’ or behavioural intentionality, but no genuine deployment of concepts at all. One can produce a whole line of further possible creatures, equipping them with progressively more complicated forms of experience, and establishing plausible causal links between their experiences and horses, but it is not clear when one will be able to say ‘This is enough, this is it’. And here it is worth considering the way in which children grow into concepts and, more generally, the fact that there are various ways in which one can have thoughts involving concepts that one grasps only incompletely.[83]


One doesn’t have to study these obscurities for long to see why analytic philosophy has wished to separate the issue of conceptual intentionality so sharply from the issue of experience, and yet the fact remains that experienceless entities cannot have intentionality. A pool of water reflecting a tree in the wind does not have intentionality. Some experienceless entities are so constituted that their interactions with their environment are mediated by highly complex internal processes, but these can never make them mean or refer to anything. A superrobot can behave as if it had the concept horse or gold. It can produce ‘It looks like gold (a horse) but is it really gold (a horse)?’ behaviour. But complex behaviour cannot make a fundamental difference. If any experienceless entity can have intentionality, a pool of water can.


If this is just the expression of a terminological preference, so be it. It is a terminological preference that marks a real and profoundly important difference in nature, in reality. Think of Mount Fuji. You have just done something no experienceless creature can do; not just (trivially) because you are the host of an experiential episode, but because you are the host of an occurrence that is truly and intrinsically about something, that is a truly intentional occurrence, given its experiential (cognitive-phenomenological) character. This is a hard fact. It may be an elusive fact, but it is no less hard, and it is a core feature of the philosophy of mind that some of its central, proprietary facts are like this one. Some philosophers have a conception of philosophical theory that makes this hard to accept, even intolerable, but no one can get to first base (there is a scholastic heaven in philosophy of mind situated some way short of first base) without grasping such facts. The main reason why they so often get sidelined in contemporary ‘naturalistic’ analytic philosophy is, first, that they sit uneasily with a patently inadequate conception of materialism and, second, that they don’t lend themselves to theory building.


At this point those who champion intentionality for the experienceless may feel they have the dialectical advantage, because we their opponents seem unable to give any precise specification of the sorts of experiential qualitative character that are necessary for genuine intentionality in particular cases. And we who continue to insist that only experiencing beings can have intentionality may feel our position to be fragile, theoretically thin. We may feel that we cannot reasonably maintain it unless we can give a more substantive answer to the question that keeps recurring: How exactly does the experiential qualitative character of experience contribute to the constitution of the intentional content of thoughts or representations in a particular case?


I think, though, that this reaction is a mistake—a large philosophical mistake. There is no need to worry. When we insist that experience is necessary for intentionality, we cannot go far in giving a precise description of what sort of experience is necessary in any particular case, but the shining truth remains: we have cognitively rich experiential lives, we think consciously and precisely about particular things, triangles, justice, lemon trees, philosophers, and all sorts of ps and qs. Whatever the differences between us, each of us knows, from his or her own case, what the experience of conceptually rich, object-directed conscious thought is like. We have such experience almost all the time we are awake, and often when we are asleep. The phenomenon in question is as real as any other natural phenomenon, and it just is the natural phenomenon of intentionality. It is at least the natural phenomenon of internal intentionality;[84] and if we are indeed located in a world in the way that we suppose ourselves to be, then it is also (almost always) the phenomenon of external intentionality.


Conclusion: when we consider intentionality as something that threatens to pose a problem for naturalism as materialism, we find nothing about it that poses a deep philosophical problem, unless the experience that it essentially involves creates a deep problem. And if we are real, realistic materialists we see that experience does not pose a deep philosophical problem either, although there is much in this world that we do not understand.



Appendix 1 Are there occurrent non-experiential phenomena that are truly mentally contentful phenomena?


Appendix 2 Diaphanousness and Transparency: exaggerated and theoretically abused. Reid’s corrective


Appendix 3 Insubstantiality and Determinacy: two phenomenological properties of thought




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[1] I qualify the word ‘qualitative’ by ‘experiential’ because experiences also have non-experiential qualitative character according to standard materialism (every non-relational property of a thing contributes to its qualitative character).

[2] The plural-accepting, count-noun form of the word ‘experience’ remains available for talking of experienceS as things that have non-experiential being as well as experiential being. It is a standard (universal ) materialist assumption that experiences have non-experiential being as well as experiential being, and I am going to take it for granted in what follows, although it can be challenged (see Strawson 2002).

     Note that one cannot say, on identity-theory-style grounds, that it may be that to refer to the experiential being of an experience just is to refer to its non-experiential being because they are in fact the same thing. They are by definition not the same thing; one might as well say that it may be that A and not-A are the same thing. It is completely different to claim that a particular experiential phenomenon is just a matter of neuronal goings on, so that to refer to it just is to refer to neuronal goings on. This, I take it, is true.

[3] Argument is a small part of philosophy. It is not its point or heart or essence, as some think. It is a handmaiden, an underlabourer, sometimes indispensable when carrying out the business of philosophy: the search for truth.

[4] Intentionality and aboutness are dyadic relations, and as far as I can see they are non-reflexive, non-symmetric and non-transitive. Non-reflexive: a thought can be about itself (‘this very thought is puzzling’) or (much more commonly) not. Non-symmetrical: X’s present thought (‘I [X] wonder what it is that you [Y] are thinking about now’) can be about your present thought both when your present thought is about my present thought (‘I [Y] wonder what it is you [X] are thinking about now’)— evolution has seen to it that this situation is quite common—and when it is about Alpha Centauri. Non-transitive. X’s thought can be about Y’s thought and Y’s thought can be about Z’s thought whether or not X’s thought is also about Z’s thought. Moving from intentionality to aboutness: a book can be partly about itself or not, two books can be about each other or not, my thought T can be about book U and book U can be about V without T being about V (I may not know what U is about).

     The aboutness relation is also unconnected in the domain of the actual universe, on most understandings of what aboutness is, and of what entities there are in the universe, and of what relations hold between them. It is arguable that the aboutness relation is connected in Leibniz’s universe—so long as A can be allowed to be about B (by pre-established harmony) without there being any causal connection between A and B—and also in a universe which contains an omniscient—or if you like omniputant—god. Aboutness may also be connected in a godless non-Leibnizian universe such as I take our universe to be, given certain claims in current physics and a broad understandings of the notions of aboutness (and information).

[5] Or has existed; I will omit this qualification.

[6] Let us not speak weirdly of ‘intentional inexistence’; it changes nothing here. I say something about it at the end of §17.

[7] I am taking it for granted that only experiencing beings can be in mental states. Why bother to say this? Only because some philosophers have tried to realign even the word ‘mental’ in such a way that experienceless being can be said to be in mental states.

[8] See Loar xxx..

[9] I am assuming there is something it is like, experientially, to be a new born gosling.

[10] No realistic materialist can be any sort of ‘eliminativist’ with respect to consciousness.

[11] It must be said that many materialists have fulfilled them.

[12] Some today use the word ‘content’, in talking of mental content, to mean only propositional or conceptual or cognitive content. This use has led to much confusion and I am going to shun it. No serious conception of mental content can possibly exclude non-conceptual experiential qualitative content, sensory content, phenomenal content, whatever you want to call it (I return to ‘content’ in §17 and §20).

[13] Terminological habits can grip as strongly as dietary prohibitions or class-A drugs.

[14] By ‘concrete’ I simply mean ‘not abstract’. It is natural to think that any really existing thing is ipso facto concrete, non-abstract, in which case ‘concrete’ is redundant, but some philosophers have liked to say that numbers (for example) are real things—objects that really exist, but are abstract.

[15] I use ‘phenomenon’ as a completely general word for any sort of existent that carries no implication as to ontological category (the trouble with the general word ‘entity’ is that it is now standardly understood to refer specifically to things or substances).

     Note that someone who agrees that physical phenomena are all there are but finds no logical incoherence in the idea that physical things could be put together in such a way as to give rise to non-physical things can define materialism as the view that every real, concrete phenomenon that there is or could be in the universe is physical (Brian Mclaughlin triggered this point).

[16] Locke 1690, Hume 1739, Priestley 1777, Kant 1781/7, Russell 1927a, 1927b, Eddington 1928, Chomsky 1968, 1994, 1995.

[17] Descartes’s failure to see this point—Arnauld pointed it out almost immediately—was perhaps his biggest mistake.

[18] Russell 1927b: 125.

[19] 1956: 153; my emphasis.

[20] 1927a: 402; my emphasis. (Compare Lockwood 1989: 159: ‘Consciousness…provides us with a kind of ‘window’ on to our brains, making possible a transparent grasp of a tiny corner of material reality that is in general opaque to us…. The qualities of which we are immediately aware, in consciousness, precisely are some at least of the intrinsic qualities that the states and processes that go to make up the material world—more specifically, states and processes within our own brains. This was Russell’s suggestion.’)

[21] 3: 303

[22] 4: 40.

[23] 4: 34 1817: 219.

[24] 1928: 258-60; my emphases in bold. One may compare Eddington’s notion of something’s being mind-stuff in the sense of ‘not altogether foreign to the feelings in our consciousness’ to Chalmers’s notion of the ‘protophenomenal’ (1996: ch. 4).

[25] 1928: 276-7.

[26] Chomsky is very good on this point, and his advocacy of ‘methodological naturalism’ is in very much the same spirit; see e.g. Chomsky 1995: 1-10. see also Mental Reality xxx.

[27] See Strawson 1994, ch 1.4, Pitt forthcoming. The familiar notion of a sensory modality needs to be subsumed under the more general notion of experiential modality. Each sensory modality is an experiential modality, but there are others, even apart from the experiential modalities of mood: thought experience, notably, is an experiential modality to be reckoned alongside other experiential modalities. (One could say that propositional-content-entertaining experience is an experiential modality which covers thought as well as a central (phenomenological) aspect of all other propositional attitudes, just as sensory experience is an experiential modality that covers visual, auditory, tactual, etc experience.)

[28] When Searle (1992: 60) says that ‘beliefs...are actually experienced as part of our mental life’, I take it that by ‘beliefs’ he here means conscious thoughts that are occurrent entertainings of the contents of beliefs. See also Siewert (1998), Pitt (2003).

[29] To say this is not to say that meaning-experience is anything less than it is. It is to say that the qualitative character of experience is much more than some have supposed.

[30] This is analogous to the ‘transparency’ or ‘diaphanousness’ of ordinary visual experience stressed, exaggerated, and theoretically abused by ‘representationalists’ (see Appendix  1): one’s mind is taken up with the sense of the thought in such a way that it is very hard to think about the experience of having the thought.

[31] See Appendix 3 for a comment on this intangibility.

[32] Slightly more precisely: there is the way your experience is specifically in virtue of the fact that you automatically (and involuntarily) experience the sounds you hear as representing that p, for some proposition p.

[33] See further Strawson 1994: 4-13, 182-183, Ayers 1991:1.277-288. I originally adopted the term ‘cognitive phenomenology’ when discussing the experience of being a free agent (Strawson 1986: 30, 55, 70, 96, 107-109).

[34] To this extent I am disinclined to follow Siewert in taking assessability for truth or falsity as criterial for intentionality, at least in so far as assessability for truth or falsity presupposes some sort of distinctively propositional entity; although his alternative, assessability for accuracy or inaccuracy (relative to a creature’s normal modes of experiential representation) may sufficiently cover my cases.

[35] For some very good reasons as well as some bad ones.

[36] Many are still in the process of working back to where we were in the 1930s before the Wittgensteinians—the whole emphasis on (public) language—went far too far and messed everything up. (Some, though, never fell for it.)

[37] Some philosophers are very snooty about, disdainful of, the not wholly unlovable brain in the vat. This is because it so very greatly inconveniences them.

[38] The point must be conceded even by philosophers who claim that in this case one’s freak causal history means that one doesn’t really have thoughts or even experiences, as they understand these terms (for the case of thoughts, see Davidson’s discussion of his own Instant-Twin, the ‘Swampman’ (1987: 444); note that this thought-experiment is very old). For whatever words are permitted or forbidden in the description of the case, the nature of what is going on is—once again—sufficiently and dramatically indicated by saying that it could conceivably be one’s actual situation now.

[39] See note xxx.

[40] Loar xxx.

[41] Such words may be thought vague or vacuous or question-begging but they have some useful force in contexts like the present one

[42] I discuss it in Mental Reality 6.5, 6.6. See also Appendix xxx below.

[43] Fodor 2000: 4-5, 106

[44] I owe this estimate to David Chalmers.

[45] The upper tray of my dishwasher, for example—the point is clear even though I obviously can’t mention such a thing without bringing it into my consciousness.

[46] This is devastatingly analysed by Helen Steward (1997, especially ch 4). It may be added that it is pretty unnatural to use the phrase ‘mental state’ of beliefs and their ilk at all, rather than of states of anxiety, overexcitement, relaxation; and that the mere use of noun forms like ‘belief’ rather than verb forms like ‘believe’ can very easily mislead (as in many other areas of philosophy).

[47] Note that any supposed problems arising from the need to make a distinction between explicit and implicit beliefs simply vanish on this approach.

[48] Here I draw on Mental Reality, ch. 6.6.

[49] I’m assuming that there aren’t any other consciousnesses other than Louis’s in the L-reality.

[50] In the case of Mount Fuji, a causal connection is also necessary, but it is not part of what is in the L-reality.

[51] Here I mean physics in the widely accepted sense of something that studies only non-experiential phenomena. Real, realistic materialists must hold that a truly perfected physics—God’s physics—would deal equally with experiential phenomena.

[52] Actually I don’t quite. Obliged, as a hard-nosed materialist, to be a certain sort of panpsychist (Strawson 2002), I think there may in some sense be mentally contentful goings on in the L-reality at t; this being part of what the existence of the fundamental particles consists in. But these make ascriptions of mental predicates true of Louis only in the sense that non-experiential states of fundamental particles do according to conventional materialism.

[53] And not because I doubt that the ‘extended mind’ thesis (Clark and Chalmers xxx, Clark 2001 ch. xxx) is any real help with seeing how things are in this part of (mental) reality.

[54] 1992: back cover

[55] 1992: 158.

[56] 1992: 159.

[57] Obviously the cases differ in other relevant respects. Note that the present proposal entirely obviates Searle’s need for what he calls the ‘Connection Principle’.

[58] See Appendix 2 for a reply to the the suggestion that even if no dispositional mental states can be said to be truly mentally contentful there may yet be occurrent non-experiential processes going on in Louis that are truly mentally contentful.

[59] It is arguable that ‘about’, unlike ‘of’ implies an essentially discursive form of representation. I won’t make anything of this; those who say that thermometers contain representations of temperature are just as likely to say that they are in states that are about the temperature.

[60] Perhaps thermostats may also be said to have underived aboutness. They are unlike books in that it doesn’t really matter how they got to exist and be the way they are.

[61] Paul Davies, New Scientist, November 3, 2001. Information entails representation and representation entails aboutness, and it’s often said that the universe is information….

[62] Might this be true in Leibniz’s world, or does the non-causal nature of pre-established harmony rule out aboutness (God aside)?

[63] Remember from §6 that it is wholly physical considered specifically qua experiential phenomenon, and whatever its non-experiential physical being.

[64] Certainly one can’t say that every effect is a representation of its cause, although every effect may indicate its cause (I take it that causal overdetermination cases can be dealt with by giving a sufficiently detailed description of the effect, but this is not important here).

[65] Here, though, the artist must allow that the picture in the picture can be taken as a picture of the picture (one must avoid the ‘intentional fallacy’ fallacy).

[66] ‘Appearance’ works in a similar way. If A1 is an appearance of Q, Q exists. To be an appearance of; to be an appearance is necessarily to be an appearance of something.

[67] Intuitive support for the idea that yellow-experience is necessarily and eo ipso awareness of something, even in the black-and-white universe, stems first from a currently irrelevant feature of the word ‘aware’, the fact that in one use it means the same as ‘conscious’ (yellow-experience entails consciousness, so it entails awareness, on this use of ‘aware’). Putting that aside, the point is that yellow-experience in the black-and-white universe, or indeed in an ordinary congenitally blind person, is awareness-of only in so far as it is awareness of an abstract object, the content-type yellow-experience.

[68] If the ‘pure awareness’ achieved in Buddhist meditation has no content, then it is not experience. If there is ‘pure consciousness experience’ (see e.g. Shear, Forman) then this has content. Dainton xxx

[69] I’m assuming in line with standard materialism that all experiences have non-experiential being as well as experiential being. For possible doubts, see Strawson 2002.

[70] See the quotation from Reid in Appendix 1.

[71]  You might agree with occurrent even if you rejected experiential. See Appendix 2.

[72] A missile can track—appear to hunt—a plane. A bug-eyed robot can indefatigably pursue a human being, maintaining a respectful two-meter distance. And so on.

[73] One’s mental-activity dispositions (thought-transition dispositions, etc)  are just a subset of one’s behavioural dispositions when the latter are properly understood (see Mental Reality ch. 10), but I will put this point aside. Some (see e.g. Evans xxx) construe behavioural dispositions as intrinsically external-object-involving, guaranteeing that A’s and B’s dispositions are different, but I understand them in the natural internalist way according to which one shares all such dispositions with one’s Instant-Twin or Vat-Twin.

[74] Complications arise that are routine in causal accounts of things. One’s thought about X is not about the neuronal happenings that directly causally precede and precipitate the thought. Nor is it about the light waves and optic-nerve electrical activity that are causally involved in one’s coming to know about X by seeing it or reading about it. But there is nothing especially philosophically problematic about these complications (in the same way, photographs and sound recordings are only of things located at a certain stage in their causation); they certainly don’t constitute a difficulty peculiar to the present account of intentionality in such a way as to cast doubt on the No Problem Thesis.

[75] For a good recent statement of this point see, again, Loar xxx; and Horgan & Tienson 2002.

[76] Remember that X-experience is a phenomenological notion; B has X-experience in every sense in which A does.

[77] If it were physically identical it would have to be experientially identical, on the terms of realistic (real) materialism. But it has, by hypothesis, no experience.

[78] Actually I don’t think there is any legitimate ‘exciting’ sense of ‘emerge’. Note that we can drop [c] if we consider p-intentionality rather than Cube-intentionality. Here the existence of intentionality consists in the existence of [a] and [b].I discuss these and other complications raised by marshmallow camshafts in Mental Reality ch. 7.

[79] To say that the existence of intentionality consists in [a] + [b] ± [c] is not to deny any traditional controls on what can count as thought. Not only can we judge that creatures who claim to be thinking about diamond are doing no such thing, given their causal histories; we can also judge that creatures who claim to be thinking about justice or the set of prime numbers or a three-inch blue cube are doing no such thing, given what they say or otherwise do when asked about these items. This connects with the familiar idea that thoughts are what they are partly in virtue of their position in a network of other possible thoughts; in virtue of the way in which they arise from the exercise of a general (dispositional) capacity that is (necessarily) a capacity to have other related thoughts.

[80] Compare Schiffer 1987: ch. 3. And see Appendix 3.

[81] It is immediate that there is no perceptual intentionality, primitive (see p. 00) or not, in an experienceless world.

[82] Along Fodorian lines, say. The No Problem Thesis doesn’t deny that it is hard to give a satisfactory account of this phenomenon.

[83] See e.g. Burge 1979, Greenberg forthcoming.

[84] The lives of our Vat-Twins and Instant-Twins are no less rich.