intentional explanation

Tom Givon tgivon at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU
Wed Mar 7 05:40:04 UTC 2001


Maybe "unconscious rationality" is just another name for "unconscious
intent". And intents need not necessarily be 'rational'. The connection
between the sub-corrtical limbic system, where the central processing of
'intention' is localized, and the front-cortical centers of both
rationality and attention/ consciousness, is not an automatic
connection, but only an optional one.

Maybe another element involved here is the contrast between more local
vs. more global planning, actions & consequences. In general, both
language performance and bilogical evolution tend to rely on relatively
local planning & execution, much of it highly automated (thus not
conscious). But the consequences are often global, and some of them may
be available to (off-line, subsequent) conscious construction. Both
linguists & philosophers tend to ignore the difference, assuming that
because something *can* be construed consciously (later on) as
'rational', it must have been so during language
production/comprehension. This is our trap of "competence" all over
again, even when we profess to be non-Chomskyan about it.

Best,  TG

Esa Itkonen wrote:
> 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
> through."
> Esa Itkonen

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