How to be an adverbialist about phenomenal intentionality


Kriegel has revived adverbialism as a theory of consciousness. But recent attacks have shed doubt on the viability of the theory. To save adverbialism, I propose that the adverbialist take a stance on the nature of adverbial modification. On one leading theory, adverbial modification turns on the instantiation by a substance of a psychological type. But the resulting formulation of adverbialism turns out to be a mere notational variant on the relationalist approaches against which Kriegel dialectically situates adverbialism. By contrast, I argue that the way to be an adverbialist is to adopt an event ontology, emphasizing the active contribution of the mind to the phenomenology of experience. My close examination of the semantics of adverbial modification throws this metaphysical distinction into sharp relief. The event-based semantics overcomes recent objections in a way superior to the methods that would have been obviously available in the absence of a sophisticated semantics.

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  1. 1.

    I make special reference to Tye’s (1984) endorsement of the intensional semantics for adverbialism about sense-perception. This shows that one ought not suppose that Tye’s endorsement of the intensional route for perception should generalize to a unified adverbial theory of intentionality.

  2. 2.

    Traditionally, adverbialism is a theory of sense-perception. Early proponents, such as Chisholm (1957), proposed adverbialism as a way of saving certain standard intuitions that were undermined by the then-popular sense-datum theory of visual experience.

  3. 3.

    As Crane says, “Aboutness is the mere representation of some thing in words or thought, whether or not it exists” (2013, p. 9).

  4. 4.

    More on this issue in Section 6.2, below.

  5. 5.

    See the “Appendix” for a fuller characterization of the intensional semantics for adverbs.

  6. 6.

    Again, see the “Appendix” for a characterization of event semantics for adverbs.

  7. 7.

    In a modification of Tye’s example (1984, 201ff).

  8. 8.

    For the complete standard axiom set forming a mereology applied to events, see (p. 97) in Schein (1993, pp. 99–100).

  9. 9.

    See the Appendix, below.

  10. 10.

    Indeed, Kriegel allows for this, arguing that the adverbialist can accommodate externalist relations as causally involved in the account, as long as they are not involved in the constitutive ingredients of intentionality (2007, p. 321; p. 337, fn 58).

  11. 11.

    This perhaps partly explains why our results in the case of intentionality depart from Tye’s endorsement of the intensional approach for sense-perception. The motivation to solve the problem of intentional inexistence does not feature in Tye’s case.

  12. 12.

    Causal versions to be found in Fodor 1990 and Dretske 1981. Teleosemantic versions of such theories can be found in Milikan 1984, Papineau 1993 and Dretske 1995.

  13. 13.

    Note that the claim is not that an act-based conception of intentionality is necessarily a result of adopting the event semantics, but that it naturally flows into it. The event semantics, with its quantification over concrete events, is a formalization of the strategy of holding adverbial modifications to be modifications of a state/event of a subject, rather than modifications of the subject herself (as in the intensional approach) (cf. Mendelovici 2018, ch. 9). On this point, Kriegel and I agree. Given this strategy, I think the way to avoid Woodling’s (2016) worry that any variation in phenomenology will have to be derived from variation the object of in an act-object relation is to understand the event semantics as giving way to an act-based metaphysics of intentionality. All things considered, then, it seems to me that the suggestion of combining the strategy of holding intentionality to be a modification of a mental event with the move to an act-based metaphysics of intentionality is the way to save adverbialism.

  14. 14.

    The invocation of Kant here is meant solely as a hermeneutical device. I do not intend here to claim to be giving a Kantian theory of intentionality or to take any exegetical stance on issues in the interpretation of Kant.

  15. 15.

    See, e.g., the literature on predictive processing, e.g., in Wiese and Metzigner (2017).

  16. 16.

    Kriegel presents several possible approaches to this problem that I do not have room to consider here (2011, 156ff). The task, as Kriegel nicely articulates it, is to determine what the phenomenological signature of intentionality is, and to explicate this in terms that do not already presuppose a property of intentional content but rather construct that property from experiential notions.

  17. 17.

    Cf. Reichenbach (1947) and Goodman (1956), who show how the individuation of events is dependent upon the context of description.

  18. 18.

    For ease of reading, I have left out the σ function from the intensional constructions in the main body of the paper, since such technical details did not affect the primary arguments.

  19. 19.

    In particular, we are leaving aside the complications of recursively building complex predicates by abstraction, as well as the issue of the restrictiveness of an adverb. The former is one of the most attractive elements of intensional semantics in its ability to model interactions of adverbs and predicates at various scopes, but the complications it introduces are not necessary for our purposes. See, e.g., Fara (2012) for a more in-depth survey.


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I would like to thank Sean Walsh, David Woodruff Smith, Annalisa Coliva, Karl Schafer, and Uriah Kriegel for their extensive feedback on earlier versions of this paper. The final version was also importantly shaped by the insightful feedback of several anonymous referees, to whom I am also grateful.

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Correspondence to Kyle Banick.



Semantics for adverbs

Here I briefly recall the basics of Montagovian and Davidsonian approaches to adverbs. In this way, it is not presumed that the reader has prior familiarity with these in order to appreciate the application of these ideas to consciousness discussed above. As a first approximation, we can think of adverbs as the sorts of words or phrases that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. We are interested in the logic of adverbs, an inquiry centered around the question of entailment relations between sentences containing adverbs. Consider the following list of sentences:

$$ \begin{aligned} & ( {\text{a) Socrates}}\;{\text{ ran }}\;{\text{swiftly }}\;{\text{across}}\;{\text{ Athens}} .\\ & ( {\text{b) Socrates }}\;{\text{ran }}\;{\text{swiftly}} .\\ & \left( {\text{c}} \right){\text{ Socrates }}\;{\text{ran}} .\\ \end{aligned} $$

Intuitively, any sentence in this list entails any sentence below, but not above.

To motivate the move to the more complicated Montagovian or Davidsonian approaches, let us briefly see why the most naive treatment will not work. In first-order predicate logic, it is natural to parse each sentence (a)–(c) as having a simple subject-predicate structure, so that we obtain a formal representation of (a)–(c) like so:

$$ \begin{aligned} ({\text{a}}^{\prime} ) & R^{\prime\prime}(s):{\text{ Socrates \,ran }}\;swiftly\; \, across \, \;Athens \\ ({\text{b}}^{\prime} ) & R^{\prime}(s):{\text{ Socrates \, ran }}\;swiftly. \\ ({\text{c}}^{\prime} ) & R(s):{\text{ Socrates \, ran}}. \\ \end{aligned} $$

It is evident that this captures none of the entailment structure implicit in the original list of sentences, because in first-order logic no monadic predicate entails any other.

The Davidsonian event approach, further developed by Parsons, is undergirded by denial of the naive view that adverbs modify verbs per se. Rather, adverbs are properties attributed to events. So, for example, the event semanticist parses (c) as saying that there is an event that has Socrates as its subject and has the property of being a running event. The event semanticist thus posits a more complex logical form underneath the surface grammar: there is an implicit quantification over events, and it is the event that the adverb modifies.

For philosophers, the point of deep interest here is the quantification over events. Indeed, much of the philosophical debate surrounding this approach has had to do with the metaphysics of event quantification. But for the logician, the quantification over events is unproblematic and solves the problem of entailment:

$$ \begin{aligned} \left( {{\text{a}}^{\prime\prime}} \right) & \exists e\left[ {Subj\left( {e,s} \right)\& e_{R} \& e_{W} \& e_{A} } \right] \\ \left( {{\text{b}}^{\prime\prime}} \right) & \exists e\left[ {Subj\left( {e,s} \right)\& e_{R} \& e_{W} } \right] \\ \left( {{\text{c}}^{\prime\prime}} \right) & \exists e\left[ {Subj\left( {e,s} \right)\& e_{R} } \right] \\ \end{aligned} $$

It is easy to see that the entailments are given logical form as instances of conjunction elimination.

Setting aside the event approach, the Montagovian, or intensional, approach to this problem has been developed by Thomason and Stalnaker (1973). The underlying thoughts are, first, that it would be nice if we did not have to stray so far from the surface grammar. Second is the idea that it should be the meaning of particular adverbs, rather than the logical forms of adverbs simpliciter, that secures inferences. For, some adverbs should not entail in the way we have said in examples (a)–(c). Consider, for example, that, ‘Socrates supposedly ran’ should not entail, ‘Socrates ran,’ and this is due to a fact about the meaning of ‘supposedly.’ So the move to an intensional setting is quite natural.

The formal ingredients behind intensional semantics for adverbs are the intension operator, \(^\wedge,\) and a predicate-modifying function, σ. The main idea is that the intension operator blocks certain inferences that can be re-instated with meaning postulates. This can be given a well-defined possible-worlds semantics, and the resulting functions can be correlated with English sentences without having to posit, as does event semantics, a hidden syntactic structure to secure the semantics.

Given an expression φ, the intension operator returns the intension of φ, i.e., \(^\wedge\)φ. Adverbs–i.e., the intensional predicate-modifying functions σ–can then be prefixed to the intensions of predicates to yield new intensional functions.Footnote 18 For example, if R stands for runs, then we have the intension of R, \(^\wedge R\). Suppose σ is a predicate-modifying function, then prefixing σ to the abstracted \(^\wedge R\) predicate yields the new intension σ\((^\wedge R)\).

Let us apply this to the running examples. Note, first, that we will simplify matters since entailments here are more complicated than in the event approach.Footnote 19 Still, let us consider the inference from (b) to (c), reproduced below in the form of the intensional theory:

$$ \begin{aligned} ({\text{b}}^{\prime\prime\prime}) & (^\wedge R)(s) \\ \left( {{\text{c}}^{\prime\prime\prime}} \right) & R(s). \\ \end{aligned} $$

On the Montague framework, this argument is not valid at the structural level. This makes sense in cases like that mentioned above, when the adverb in question is ‘supposedly’ or ‘allegedly’, since it is not the case that all alleged runners are runners. To obtain the validity for other sorts of adverbs, the intensional framework introduces a meaning postulate to ensure that, e.g., necessarily, if something runs swiftly, then it runs.

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Banick, K. How to be an adverbialist about phenomenal intentionality. Synthese 198, 661–686 (2021).

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  • Adverbialism
  • Phenomenal intentionality
  • Consciousness
  • Event semantics
  • Intensional logic