William Mann bill_mann at SIL.ORG
Mon Feb 26 18:45:17 UTC 2001

I am replying to Ramin Akbari's message about intention.
(I have included portions of it below.)

I certainly recognize the focus in educational research and other branches
of psychology of

"establishing the psychological reality of the construct being

Psychology as a discipline could not continue without something like this.
In fact for any of our disciplines, there needs to be a distinction, or a
tendency toward a distinction,  between the established, well justified
terminology and that which is not.  I take the central concern in Ramin
Akbari's message to be whether "intention" is in the well justified group or
not, and if not whether it can be brought into the well justified group for
a particular subdiscipline of psychology.

Psychology functions as several fields with the same name, and often it is
necessary to specify whether Clinical Psychology, Experimental Psychology or
any of a half dozen others is intended.  Such is inevitable given the
complexity and importance of the subject matter.  Here I believe he is
addressing a need of researchers in Experimental Psychology -- a need to
wait for justification before using the term freely.

But for the rest of us, I think that we need not wait.  I think that the
important general issue is not

"establishing the psychological reality of the construct being

but rather:

"establishing the reality of the construct being investigated. "

For that end, other sorts of evidence are usable.  In fact, other fields may
have a larger body of experience with some particular concept than
professional psychologists can assemble.

I find it significant that there is, in the Western nations that I know
something about, a tradition of multiple centuries of trial transcripts,
applying notions of intention found in laws.  It is impressive that the
concept survives despite the fact that in every trial there is one side that
would win if the concept could be shown to be unreal.  Often those
adversaries are paid even more than scientists to argue such cases.

Yet in law, intention continues to be regarded as real.

Ramin Akbari continues:  "If
> intention is part of any authentic communication (
> which I am sure it is) what real, objective, data-
> based support do we have for its existence as a
> research construct ? If we can "prove" the
> psychological reality of intention objectively, then
> we can hope to have better tests of language ability
> and probably some new approaches to teaching foreign
> languages."

The real problem here seems to be spurious requirements in the research
methods, requiring proofs of reality for things that are well known to be
real.  We could even quote Ramin Akbari's message, saying "If intention is
part of any authentic communication (which I am sure it is) ..."

It is unfortunate that these research methods, which have been in place for
a long
time before Ramin Akbari had to struggle with them, force him to prove that
which he is sure of.   This is going far beyond ordinary caution.  Rather it
deals with a closed intellectual world that does not grant full reality to
what is known, even to its practitioners.

The risk for other intellectual communities is that somehow this limited
closed-world treatment of reality will become licensed to tell, with the
authority of science, what is real and what is not.

Michael Reddy, in the paper referenced below, is suggesting that there are
terms that have been inappropriately treated as being well justified.  The
list might include "content," "meaning," "code," "message" and even
"languages."  Caution in using such terms is well justified.

In the case of 'intention,"  Raymond W. Gibbs in his 1999 book <<Intentions
in the Experience of Meaning,>> makes a good defense of the term and a good
constructive case for prospective benefits of using it.  I think we can
treat it as a worthy term, but it is certainly worthwhile to be explicit
about what our usage entails.

Bill Mann

The first reference below was in a previous message.

Reddy, Michael J.  (1979).  The Conduit Metaphor: A case of frame conflict
in our language about language In A.  Ortony (eds,).  Metaphor and Thought,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 41.

Gibbs, Raymond W. (1999)  Intentions in the Experience of Meaning:
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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