intentional explanation

Esa Itkonen eitkonen at UTU.FI
Tue Mar 6 16:12:42 UTC 2001

It is impossible to read literature on pragmatics, sociolinguistics,
psycholinguistics, diachronic linguistics or linguistic typology without
constantly enountering expressions like 'this was a reasonable thing to
do', 'it would have been irrational to do otherwise' etc etc. Clearly,
linguists are trying to say something here, but what is it? It is the
following schema of action-explanation:

{[G:X & B:(A -> X)] --> G:A} => A'

X and A are mental representations of goal-states and actions,
respectively. The prefixes G and B represent prositional attitudes of
intending (or simply wanting) and believing. The schema says that if
someone intends to achieve the goal X and believes that an action A (which
he is capable of performing) contributes to bringing X about, then he MUST,
as a matter a conceptual necessity, intend to do A. (The necessity is
indicated by the 'e-mail entailment sign' -->.) Thus, intention is
transferred from goal to action. (As Aristotle put it, "who wants the end,
wants the means".) Having this goal and this belief will then bring it
about that he does A'. The simple arrow and the double arrow stand for
ordinary causation and mental causation, respectively. While A is the
mental representation of an action, A' is its spatiotemporal counterpart.
A' is a RATIONAL action to the extent that it is indeed an adequate means
of bringing about X. The 'rational explanation' of an action consists in
showing that the agent thought it to be an adequate means of attaining some
goal. As Newton-Smith (1981: 241) has put it: "To explain an action as an
action is to show that it is rational. This involves showing that on the
basis of the goals and beliefs of the person concerned the action was the
means he believed to be the most likely to achieve his goal." It must be
added, however, that even (prima facie) IRRATIONAL actions can only be
explained by using the schema of rational explanation, i.e. by showing how
the action that was in fact irrational could have APPEARED as rational to
the agent. Otherwise it just remains incomprehensible. Rational
explanation, based on UNCONSCIOUS rationality, turns out to be the common
denominator of the linguistic subdisciplines mentioned above (as claimed in
my Causality book from 1983). Or, rather than unconscious rationality, what
we have here are unconscious ATTEMPTS AT rationality. Fodor (1975) knew it:
"For all we know, cognition is saturated with rationality through and

Esa Itkonen

More information about the Funknet mailing list