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Intentionality in Reference and Action

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This essay asks whether there is a relation between action-serving and meaning-serving intentions. The idea that the intentions involved in meaning and action are nominally designated alike as intentionalities does not guarantee any special logical or conceptual connections between the intentionality of referential thoughts and thought-expressive speech acts with the intentionality of doing. The latter category is typified by overt physical actions in order to communicate by engaging in speech acts, but also includes at the origin of all artistic and symbolic expression such cerebral and linguistic doings as thinking propositional thoughts. There are exactly four possibilities by which meaning and action intentionalities might be related to be systematically investigated. Meaning-serving and action-serving intentionalities, topologically speaking, might exclude one another, partially overlap with one another, or subsume one in the other or the other in the one. The theoretical separation of the two ostensible categories of intendings is criticized, as is their partial overlap, in light of the proposal that thinking and artistic and symbolic expression are activities that favor the inclusion of paradigm meaning-serving intentions as among a larger domain of action-serving intentions. The only remaining alternative is then developed, of including action-serving intentions reductively in meaning-serving intentions, and is defended as offering in an unexpected way the most cogent universal reductive ontology in which the intentionality of doing generally relates to the specific intentionality of referring in thought to the objects of predications, and of its artistic and symbolic expression.

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    John R. Searle, Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 3.

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    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations. Third edition; translated by G.E.M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1968).

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    Gottlob Frege, Begriffscrift, eine der arithmetischen nachgebildete Formelsprache des reinen Denkens. Halle 1879. Translated by Jean van Heijenoort as Begriffsschrift, a Formula Language, Modeled upon that of Arithmetic, for Pure Thought, in van Heijenoort, From Frege to Gödel: A Source Book in Mathematical Logic, 18791931 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 1–82; especially Part I, Definition of the Symbols, Judgment, §§2–4, pp. 11–14. See Frege, ‘Über Sinn und Bedeutung’, Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik, 100, 1892, pp. 25–50. Translated as, ‘On Sense and Reference’, in P.T. Geach and Max Black, Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1970), pp. 56–78.

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    Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, Essay on the Origins of Human Knowledge (Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines, 1746). Translated and edited by Hans Aarsleff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

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    Searle in the cluster description theory of reference in his early essay ‘Proper Names’, Mind, 67, 1958, pp. 166–173, is committed to the possibility that I can intend to refer to Aristotle by using the proper name ‘Aristotle’, but fail to do so if I do not have available for explication at least one description that truly applies to the named object. See the essays collected in the volume, John Searle’s Philosophy of Language: Force, Meaning and Mind, edited by Ssavas L. Tsohatzidis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

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    Searle, Intentionality, Chapter 1, ‘The Nature of Intentional States’, pp. 1–36. For criticism, compare Joshua Rust, John Searle (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009), pp. 51–54; 66–73.

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    Kent Bach, Thought and Reference (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1987). See especially Bach’s development of the Nominal Description Theory (NDT), pp. 133–174. The suggestion is that on Bach’s NDT we might try to explain the meaning of Searle’s ‘intentionality’ as ‘the bearer of [the word] “intentionality”’ and ‘Intentionality’ as ‘the bearer of [the word] “Intentionality”’.

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    Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books: Preliminary Studies for the Philosophical Investigations, edited by Rush Rhees; 2nd edition (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), pp. 11–13. Philosophical Investigations §§225; 562–567.

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    Searle, Intentionality, Chapter 5, ‘The Background’, pp. 141–159. The phrase makes it seem as though the Background is an identifiable thing that consists of and contains things we can comprehensively and indisputably know. Searle nevertheless allows himself some leeway in this implied determinate characterization by switching to the indefinite article occasionally, and speaking instead of a ‘a Background’ rather than ‘The Background’. The identity conditions for Searle’s Background to semantic intentionality of thought and its expression are accordingly as elusive and in the same ways as Wittgenstein’s references to Lebensformen (forms of life). See Barry Stroud, ‘The Background of Thought’ in John Searle and his Critics, edited by Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1991), Part V, ‘The Background of Intentionality and Action’, pp. 245–258. Nick Fotion, John Searle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), Chapter 6, ‘Network and Background in Mental States and Language’, pp. 99–116.

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    Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, especially §§2, 11, 23–27, 199.

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    J.L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words. William James Lectures. 2nd edition. Edited by J.O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975).

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    Searle, Intentionality, Chapter 3, ‘Intention and Action’, pp. 79–111.

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    I am grateful to the students in my Spring 2013 Proseminar, Die Philosophie von John R. Searle, for invaluble discussions especially of Searle's early view of semantic intentionality and intending to act.

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Correspondence to Dale Jacquette.

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Jacquette, D. Intentionality in Reference and Action. Topoi 33, 255–262 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-013-9165-z

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  • Action
  • Austin, J.L.
  • Intention
  • Intentionality
  • Language
  • Meaning
  • Referring
  • Searle, John R.
  • Semantics
  • Symbolic and artistic expression
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig