intentional explanation

Steve Long Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Wed Mar 7 06:17:35 UTC 2001

In a message dated 3/6/2001 10:23:00 PM, dan_everett at SIL.ORG writes:
<< Perhaps an LSA institute course on 'intentionality', offered by Searle or
other philosopher with a strong publication record in this area. >>

Just to make a point about John Searle's position, this is from a review of
his "The Rediscovery of the Mind," that appeared in the Journal of Philosophy
at the time of publication and is reproduced on the web at

<<Searle sees himself as an iconoclast, waging lonely battle against "the
tradition"--the "mainstream orthodoxy" of functionalistic materialism that
has unjustly captured the flag of the scientific establishment....  Searle is
particularly intent to challenge the arguments that claim that functionalism
(and its family of supporting doctrines) is nothing more than an application
of standard scientific method to the phenomena of mind.>>

In an interesting segment from that review, the author notes a change in
Searle's approach in "Rediscovery" that reflects perhaps how much his view
diverged (and perhaps still diverges) from those of the mainstream
"philosophers and cognitive scientists":

<<People are not, in general, daft. This obvious fact gives Searle pause. He
frequently expresses his astonishment that the other side could endorse such
monumentally silly doctrines, but that is just what his analyses tell him, so
he calls them as he sees them. "If I am right, we have been making some
stunning mistakes." (p.246) He used to stop there, but in this book there has
been a subtle but important change in his meta-opinion: "How is it that so
many philosophers and cognitive scientists can say so many things that, to me
at least [my emphasis], seem obviously false?" (p.3)

Searle may find it a bizarre sociological fact that his common sense is not
everybody's, but now he bows to that fact and thus accepts the burden of
proof (however misplaced in the eyes of eternity) of showing that his
"obvious facts" are so much as true. This is progress.>>

It might occur to someone reading this review closely that linguists,
psychologists and biologists may have as much to contribute as philosophers
to "handling" the subject of intentionality.  One does not get the impression
that, after a few millennium of addressing the problem of intention,
philosophy is ever so much closer to an answer.  But one does get the
impression that even Searle might admit that the answer hinges on what way
the science of it falls.  And that certainly includes linguistics.

I would hope that there would be no conclusion that linguists need some
extraordinary training to address the issue of intention and that it should
be left to others to define intention IN A LINGUISTIC CONTEXT.  There are of
course physiological and behavioral constraints, but in all the learning on
the subject there's nothing like a "germ theory of disease" that has settled
the matter of intention once and for all.  Far from it.

Steve Long

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