Monday, September 05, 2016


357 days until the first day of classes.

In addition to continuing with the Philosophy Bites podcasts, I have been looking at some works on intentionality.

Desires are intentional states. One of the things I have been neglecting is a detailed look at what a desire might be - other than just a propositional attitude. A couple of Philosophy Bites podcasts interviewing Daniel Dennett: Daniel Dennett on Free Will Worth Wanting and Daniel Dennett on the Chinese Room have suggested to me that I should look into this issue more carefully.

Today, I started my investigation by going through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Intentionality. (To be honest, my current practice is to create an MP3 file of the philosophical writings that I am interested in so that I can listen to them while exercising.)

I have discovered that the problem with this body of literature that persisted when I first went into graduate school still exists. Almost all of the work looks at beliefs. None of it - or almost none of it - considers desires. Thus my own claim that a desire provides motivation to make or keep a proposition true is not discussed in the literature, because it concerns desires, which are not discussed in the literature.

One of the main concerns expressed in the article concerns the relationship between belief and truth. For example, beliefs are thought of as describing a relationship between the agent and something else - between the believer and the thing believed. However, how can you have a relationship between something that exists (e.g., the belief that Pegasus could fly) and something else that does not exist (Pegasus)? A great deal of philosophical work seems to have gone into accounting for exactly what it is for a belief to be true.

I listen to this with my thought on desires.

A great many of our desires are relationships between us and things that are not true. I desire to have millions of dollars, and to be a world-famous philosopher. In neither of these cases is the proposition "I have millions of dollars" and "I am a world-famous philosopher" true. In fact, even when we look at more mundane examples we see the same issue. I am thirsty. I desire that I am drinking some cold water. Yet, "I am drinking some cold water" is a false proposition.

But it is a proposition that I can make true simply by going over to the refrigerator and pouring myself a glass of cold water and drinking it.

The motivation behind desire is a motivation to make a proposition true if it is currently false. A "desire that P" where "P" is false does work. This is what gets the agent out of his chair and moving towards the refrigerator.

Speaking of which, I will be right back . . .

Ahhhh! That's better. *Sets down the glass of water.*

For my money, the most interesting discussion within the article concerned Ruth Millikan's teleosemantic theory of mental content. Millikan builds on the observation that biological systems - eyes, hearts, kidneys - look as if they have a designer. They look as if they have been built to serve a purpose in the same way that a watch is built to serve a purpose. In this way, biological systems display intentionality.

The basic idea that I got from this discussion is that we can understand beliefs and desires the way we understand eyes, hearts, and kidneys. They are systems designed to serve a natural purpose. Eyes evolved to give the agent information about the external world. Hearts pump blood. Kidneys filters impurities out of the blood. Beliefs represent the external world. Desires motivate the agent to realize states of affairs within the external world. All of them show intention by doing what they were selected for.

Evolution gave me a belief about the water in the refrigerator. Thirst motivated me to go to the refrigerator and pour myself a glass of water. These two systems perform an evolutionary function of keeping my hydrated.

Well, I am just getting started on this study - so I can say little of use at this moment. Consider this to be nothing more than the type of brief overview of an overview that one can only have on the first contact with a new subject matter. My next task is to create an MP3 file of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Teleological Theories of Mental Content. that I can listen to on my next trip to the gym.

Have I mentioned how I have an issue with not having enough time?

No comments: