Minds and Machines

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 119–139 | Cite as

Towards a Cognitive Neuroscience of Intentionality

  • Alex Morgan
  • Gualtiero PiccininiEmail author


We situate the debate on intentionality within the rise of cognitive neuroscience and argue that cognitive neuroscience can explain intentionality. We discuss the explanatory significance of ascribing intentionality to representations. At first, we focus on views that attempt to render such ascriptions naturalistic by construing them in a deflationary or merely pragmatic way. We then contrast these views with staunchly realist views that attempt to naturalize intentionality by developing theories of content for representations in terms of information and biological function. We echo several other philosophers by arguing that these theories over-generalize unless they are constrained by a theory of the functional role of representational vehicles. This leads to a discussion of the functional roles of representations, and how representations might be realized in the brain. We argue that there’s work to be done to identify a distinctively mental kind of representation. We close by sketching a way forward for the project of naturalizing intentionality. This will not be achieved simply by ascribing the content of mental states to generic neural representations, but by identifying specific neural representations that explain the puzzling intentional properties of mental states.


Intentionality Representation Cognitive neuroscience Mechanisms 



Thanks to Anne Jacobson, Jonathan Kaplan, Nelson Mauro Maldonado, Marcin Miłkowski, Alessio Plebe, Michael Schmitz, Leonardo Wykrota, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments. This material is partially based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SES-1654982.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rice UniversityHoustonUSA
  2. 2.University of Missouri–St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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