This is the ninth of eleven papers in Ted Honderich's book On Consciousness (Edinburgh University Press and Pittsburgh University Press, 2004. It sets out part of the Radical Externalism theory of consciousness. It was commented on adversely, to say the least, by Colin McGinn in his review of the book and defended by Ted Honderich in his reply. Skip all that and spend any time instead on the real truth of perceptual consciousness in the 2014 volume Actual Consciousness.

    It is easy to suppose that something is going wrong, has already gone wrong. The line of thought in these pieces of argument, you may suppose, is doing too much violence to our settled conceptual scheme. You may grant it is uncomfortable to say that consciousness is something in heads, and that it is more than uncomfortable to judge that it consists in the chemical and electrical processes of cell bodies, axons, dendrites, transmitter-substances and the like. But, you may suppose, there is something as wrong with the theory of perceptual consciousness as existence.

    You may dig in your heels and declare that your consciousness isn't in your head but it isn't out there either. That sounds right too, somehow. But does it sound right because of a bit of forgetfulness? Our subject has latterly been one part, kind or side of consciousness -- what can be labelled awareness or experience rather than thinking and desiring. Are you so certain what what it is for you to be aware of your surroundings isn't for things out there somehow to exist? But that is reassurance and encouragement, and a promise of things to come, not introduction to our subject now.

    There is another source of scepticism or worse with respect to the theory in hand. It is the declaration that consciousness is of something or is about something. There must be something true in that, you say. It can't be that consciousness is in no sense relational. Well, I agree. In fact it needs to be granted that there is another criterion for an adequate theory of consciousness -- that it gives a place, some considerable place, to the declaration that consciousness is somehoe of or about things. Any theory that gave no assent to the declaration could get no assent to itself.

    But is it the case that perceptual consciousness cannot be as has been supposed because of the truth in the declaration? Or truth in related declarations? Many philosophers of 'of' and 'about' will hurry to say so so. Nothing so clear, they say, as that our consciousness of the world is not just a fact, but a fact of or about something else. Anyway, something or other like that just has to be right. Various propositions of intentionality, as it has misleadingly been named by philosophers, can't come to nothing much. There is too much sense in them for that.


1. A Good Start But a Blunder?

We ought to have had enough of accounts of perceptual and other consciousness that in fact are denials of it -- denials of a reality on which we have a grip. Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher of science, spoke of a period of what he called normal science coming to an end with a paradigm shift.1 Have we not come to an end of some normal philosophy of mind? Do we not need a new paradigm with consciousness? With that want of humility so natural to the philosophical temperament, I would like to carry forward the proposing of one.

What is it for you in the room you are in to be perceptually conscious at this moment? What is it for you to be aware of your surroundings? It is for a world somehow to exist. It is not for a world somehow to exist -- of which you are conscious or aware or the like. There is no such circular addition to the answer. And what that existence-claim comes to is that a collection of things, reasonably referred to as chairs and the like, are in space and time, have other properties, have certain dependencies, and are not exactly physical. They are, so to speak, what exactly physical things are made out of.

Recall the earlier quick definition of the physical -- space-occupiers that are perceived or space-occupiers that are in lawlike connections with space-occupiers that are perceived. To say that something is physical in the first sense is to say that it has a several-sided dependency on perceivers in general or some of them, maybe a class of experts, most familiarly a dependency on their perceptual apparatus. Their contribution to secondary properties of things, the founding fact of the tradition of British Empiricism, running from Locke, Berkeley and Hume up to Ayer and beyond, is one large side of this story of dependency. In contrast, to say that your being aware of this room now is for a world somehow to exist -- for a particular world of perceptual consciousness to exist -- is to say that things are in space and time and have other properties, but have a several-sided dependency on only you.

The chairs now in your world of perceptual consciousness are certainly not in your head or mind, or out of space, but are right there in space outside of you. This is perfectly consistent with their having a dependency on the atoms etc. in the other half of the physical world, what we can call the scientific world, which dependency certainly is important to the view in question, as well as the unique dependency on you alone among perceivers.

    The existence of the chairs, this state of affairs, is no more mysterious than things existing physically, that other state of affairs. It is in several ways less mysterious. The first sort of existence, dependent on one person, is in fact somehow fundamental to the second. As already remarked, we get to or make up or posit the physical world from the material of our perceptual worlds. In short, what we have here are two related ways of conceiving of what there is, where by those latter words we can gesture at whatever it is to which we bring our perceiving, conceptualizing, science and so on, something like a Kantian noumenal world or simply the substratum of science.

Taking naturalism as before, as the attitude that we should somehow or in a way restrict our thinking to the physical world, this theory of percepetual consciousness as existence is not exactly naturalism. But it is not far off. It is as good as identical in spirit. This theory about perceptual consciousness could not possibly be regarded as substance-dualism, and is remote from property-dualism as traditionally and now conceived. That is, it does not turn perceptual consciousness into a ghostly thing or ghostly stuff whose natures go unexplained. Although different in its source, it has an accidental affinity with meaning-doctrines of anti-individualism -- it might be thought to make sense of them. It may be a basis for an account of consciousness generally -- its other two parts. These are reflective consciousness, which roughly speaking is thinking without perceiving, and affective consciousness, which has to do with desire, emotion and so on.

    The theory has main recommendations having to do with phenomenology so-called, the reality of consciousness, subjectivity, and the mind-body problem. Does it also have a fatal weakness? Might it be a kind of blunder?

    It has been a philosophical commonplace that most of non-perceptual consciousness, and perceptual consciousness as well, has a property or nature that is its intentionality, glanced at when we were surveying humble truths about the mind (pp. 00-00). In the philosophy of mind since Roderick Chisholm's book Perceiving of 1957,2 a lot has been heard about intentionality. Many have contemplated that it may be 'the mark of the mental', and taken consciousness as at least a main part of the mental, the remainder being our various capabilities and dispositions. Intentionality is typically introduced by way of certain casual remarks.

(1) Conscious events are of things.

(2) They are about things.

(3) In consciousness there is something before the mind.

(4) The mind has a capacity to direct itself at things.

(5) Conscious events are directed at or have reference to things.

(6) We do not just believe, or just desire, or just see, but believe, desire or see something.

(7) We can believe what is not the case, want what does not exist, and so on.   

Do you suppose, on hearing or rehearing these remarks, that you have already been told what intentionality is? That would perhaps be in line with Daniel Dennett's initial and snappy definition of intentionality as simply 'aboutness.'3 But what it is for something to be 'about' something else is entirely unclear. The word in itself is no more an analysis or explanation of something than are the words 'cause', 'time', 'good' and so on, through the list of large philosophical problems.

Presumably there is something philosophically valuable that has the name of intentionality. This is some more clarified property or character of conscious events, most of them, this property or character being their intentionality properly speaking. Such a property or character is given to us in a philosophical proposition, theory or doctrine, or one of a family of these. This is what we need.

Thus we can take the initial remarks as parts of what has been called folk-psychology -- what ordinary people believe about the mind. The subsequent propositions of intentionality are not part of folk-psychology. They are in a way on a level with the dualisms, physicalisms, functionalisms, ideas of  the subjective character of conscious events in the head, and so forth. This is so although the propositions, theories or doctrines of intentionality may not compete with but may enter into the dualisms and so on. Nearly all of these, save eliminative materialism, have somehow added to their materials at least a recognition of a somehow clarified property or character of intentionality.

    The general question in front of us, then, is whether the various remarks, the folk-psychology, indicate or give rise to a truth about perceptual consciousness, anyway some proposition of importance -- which proposition has to be part of any satisfactory account of this consciousness. More particularly, do we here find another criterion or constraint with respect to a satisfactory theory of consciousness, including the theory of perceptual consciousness as existence?

Is the criterion one that this theory fails to satisfy, maybe does not come near to satisfying? Is it the case that what has to be added to the theory of perceptual consciousness will be entirely at odds with that theory, destroy it?

    It is clear, if you are still wondering about it, that we do not have much of a test of theories of consciousness, if any at all, in the various remarks themselves. For example, there is no challenge in the fact (6) that to see is always to see something -- that being understood as a remark in an ordinary unphilosophical tone of voice. What about the remark that (1) in consciousness there is something before the mind, or the remark that (2) the mind has a capacity to direct itself upon things? Does the latter introduce an actual criterion of consciousness, something beyond the truth that seeing is always seeing something? To the extent that the term 'the mind' can be assigned a plain man's meaning, do we get a requirement on accounts of consciousness?

    Let us not reflect further on the use of the opening remarks about intentionality. In fact the distance between several of the remarks and the ensuing propositions is not great. Let us assume that the remarks are some guide as to perceptual consciousness, as distinct from reflective and affective consciousness, but leave the matter a little unsettled. Let us try to arrive, by way of them, at an analytical or otherwise enlightening product of the remarks, a clear and useful proposition about intentionality, maybe several. Seven candidates present themselves for consideration.

2. Conscious Contents, Unconscious Contents, Intensionality

    The first of these candidates, certainly a contradiction of consciousness as existence,  is as follows.

 Consciousness involves a relation of directedness or reference between something or other, this being unspecified, and a content or object internal to the conscious event in question. The event in question takes place in the head of the perceiver, as must its contained content or object.

    This proposition of intentionality does not have in it something often associated with the matter -- this being a mediaeval embarrassment about the content or object existing only in some funny way, its being halfway between nothing and something. It comes from and in fact is closer than many propositions to what Franz Brentano actually says in his famous and often misread paragraph on the subject:

Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction towards an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not all do so in the same way. In presentation something is presented, in judgement something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on.4

    But the somewhat more explicit proposition rather than Brentano's paragraph is my concern. Evidently it has in it nothing whatever about objects or contents outside the head of the perceiver -- objects or contents of which it is remarked, by other doctrinalists to whom we will come, that they may not exist. Also, as you will not be surprised to hear, this first proposition is in accord with the truism that a relation requires the existence of its terms, and in particular that a dyadic relation requires the existence of two terms. If the second term in the proposition, the mentioned content or object in consciousness and the head of the perceiver, did not exist, the token relation would not exist, and hence the particular event of perceptual consciousness would not exist. But there is no reason whatever to raise a question of such an inner content or object not existing.

    What is to be said of this? It seems out of touch with the initial remarks as ordinarily understood that (3) in consciousness there is something before the mind, that (4) the mind has a capacity to direct itself at things, and that (6) in seeing we see something. According to them, do I not have before me, direct myself at, and see, ordinary rooms outside my head? Folk-psychology is not the doctrine of sense-data. Even when a supposed external object in fact does not exist, say the fountain of youth in Hampstead, what I seem to get in hallucinating it is not what I as a member of the folk would then describe as a fountain in my head. Very definitely this first proposition of intentionality as applied to perceptual consciousness is wonderfully incomplete. Seeing involves some relation to something outside the head in question, whether or not the relation is in the consciousness. That is built into the concept of seeing.

We need to object, too, that the relation in this first proposition, inside the head, is left about as metaphorical and obscure as in the ordinary remarks with which we began. Certainly the relation, although reference to the content or object is mentioned, could not possibly be one of representation, like that between a word or picture and what it stands for. What the account evidently wants to bring in as the first term of the relation is something like the mind, which itself, whatever it is, can be no representation or symbol. Also, what is this thing called the mind? We are doing philosophy now, not chatting. We need to know.

A further objection will have counterparts with respect other propositions of intentionality to which we are coming. We have it that an event of perceptual consciousness in a head includes within itself a content or object. The account says nothing of the nature of this item, about whether it is conceptual or not and so on. But leave that. The relevant fact is that the content or object is understood as being within or a part of the consciousness of the perceiver. It is as much so as if it were a sense-datum -- which, for all we are told, it may be. It would also be within or a part of the consciousness of the perceiver if it were the original sort of thing in the intentionality tradition, the intentio of the mediaevals, this being an idea, concept or notion.5

But when I am aware of this room now, what is within my consciousness, so to speak, is the room -- and no other relevant thing. Seeing isn't always seeing double. Seeing isn't seeing by way of using some conscious means to the end, having some image or idea or whatever else. There's no picture or word or the like in the story of my perceptual consciousness now. It's not as if I'm aware of living my life as a life of doing something like watching television. There is no minimizing this objection. The very centrepiece of this first account of intentionality is missing from its subject-matter, from the reality of perceptual consciousness. This account discovers within perceptual consciousness what simply is not there.

Does a scientist of consciousness now say that this last objection is beside some large point? And say that that point is that the content or object actually need not be within or part of the conscious event? Well, that is not at all like the account we have been considering, the one closest to Brentano's paragraph, but of course we can contemplate a second proposition, something distant from Brentano's paragraph if related to it.

An event of perceptual consciousness involves a relation of directedness between something or other, far less elusive than the mind, maybe a neural system, and a content or object not internal to the event of perceptual consciousness, but within the head of the perceiver. This content or object has an explanatory role with respect to the conscious event itself.

The objections to the first proposition having to do with incompleteness and an obscure relation also apply to this second one -- which is certainly at odds with consciousness as existence. This story of non-conscious intentionality does escape the largest objection, since its centre-piece is not known to be missing. The escape, however, is by means of what is hardly less than philosophical disaster. This is not because the account is in a certain way false. No doubt at all -- there are many things that may be dubbed contents or objects that are within or on the surface of a perceiver and are within the directedness of something else, and are somehow explanatory of events of perceptual consciousness. The most familiar one is a real retinal image. Neuroscience provides a lot more candidates.

The philosophical disaster of this account is, rather, that it is in fact no account whatever of the kind promised, an account of perceptual experience itself, this consciousness. It merely changes the subject while pretending to stick to it.

Is there a reason for changing the subject, for contemplating this second account? Could it be that someone's reason, so-called, is just some other account of perceptual consciousness, something that calls for the relocation of intentionality outside of consciousness as we have a grip on it? Maybe hybrid or modified functionalism, having in it the story of inner causal relata but also something about 'qualia,' these being a matter of consciousness but not intentionality?

But this is not a defence of non-conscious intentionality, a reason in favour of it. It is in effect pretty much the opposed proposition -- and thus near to begging the question. We want a ground for moving from intentionality within consciousness to non-conscious intentionality, not an assertion of the latter. By contrast, as it seems to me, my objection that the proposition of non-conscious intentionality gives no account whatever of something, as implicitly promised, is not the question-begging assertion of another account.

One of the initial remarks about intentionality was that (7) we can believe in or want what does not exist -- and of course hope for it and so on. This plain fact is thought to be catered for in some proposition of intentionality. It is not catered for in the first proposition, as noticed, or presumably the second. There is nothing in either proposition about any relation one of whose terms does not or may not exist. The plain fact that we can believe in or want or hope for what does not exist may be turned into something else, as it was by Chisholm.6 It may be replaced by a fact about language now philosophically familiar, the fact of intensionality, with an 's.'. This linguistic fact is;

It does not follow, from the use of a referring expression, that the thing referred to actually does exist.

It does not follow, from the truth that someone wanted to find the fountain of youth in Hampstead, that it exists. But the unusual entailment-failure, as is now well-known, occurs with other things than consciousness and the like. It tells us nothing of the distinctiveness of consciousness. I mention this so-called account of intentionality only to put it aside quickly. Even if the linguistic fact turned up only and always with consciousness, of course, it by itself would tell us little worth knowing of consciousness itself.7  It would not be an account of how it was that consciousness gave rise to the linguistic fact. Our subject is not language.

3. Two Relations, A Causal Story

Is there some proposition of intentionality, as distinct from anything else, that does cater for the fact that we can believe in or want what does not exist? Is there some proposition that does involve us in the 'problem', as it called, of a relation to something that does not exist? Indeed there is. Consider the following fourth candidate, anticipated in passing earlier.

An event of perceptual consciousness is such that a mind is in a relation of directedness with respect to a content or object internal to the event, as before, but there is a second relation between the content or object and something outside the event and the head in question. This second relation may hold between the content or object and something that does not exist.

The proposition, fatal to consciousness as existence if it is true and arguable, is complete in the way that the first two are not. We get outside the head. It faces the objections noticed earlier having to do with the obscurity of the first relation between the mind and internal content or object, and the obscurity of the mind itself -- and, as might have been said before, an objection having to do with the probable circularity of  recourse to the mind in an account of consciousness. It is also entirely open to the major objection that we have no awareness at all of the supposed content or object. It is just missing. The theory is discovering something that isn't there.

There is also the fact that the second relation, to say the least, is obscure. If it is said to be representation, what is that in general? Few philosophical questions are further from an answer. As for the philosophical question of what this sort of conscious representation is supposed to be, as against representation with real sentences and pictures, this is a philosophical question often regarded as unanswerable.8

That is not the end of the trouble. There is worse. It is no good tripping lightly past the so-called 'problem' of a non-existent term of a relation. This is in fact a simple contradiction. The relation of representation or whatever is indeed presented as a relation. What we are thus offered is a nonsense -- the nonsense of the possibility of a dyadic relation with one term, the nonsense of a relation between something and nothing.

Do some of us come to tolerate the so-called problem by concentrating on the many happy cases where the thing outside the conscious event and the head does exist -- say the fountain in South End Green rather than the fountain of youth? Can it be supposed that despite the contradiction in the second case, we can have a clear and good account of this relation in the first case? Exactly the opposite can be argued. The so-called relation of representation, it seems, is the same in both cases. Well then, what is clear about the first case is not part of that relation. Exactly what you can't do is depend on what is different about the first case.

Let me be brief about something else, a once hopeful proposition that is best regarded as a part of or serious and exclusive Functionalism and hence something we have put aside. It could, however, be made part of the proposition just considered or of something else. It is distinctive in being a certain attempt to make an escape from the obscurity of the second relation at which we have been glancing, regarded as one of representation, aboutness or whatever. What it does is to suppose that:

The relation between the internal content or object and the particular thing outside the head is just that the latter causes the former.

This fifth proposition seems hopeless. The simplest reason for saying so is that the internal content or object must be the effect of myriad things other than the particular thing it is said to represent or whatever -- it is the effect, for a start, of a real image on a retina. It's not supposed to be about the retina.  Complicating the the simple causal story has not succeeded, and further attempts, more epicycles, seem unlikely to do better. Of course the truth about perceptual consciousness is causal, but it is a different kind of truth. You do not get to it by fiddling with the central causal story in the science of perception.9

4. Being Given to the Mind

Before turning to the fullest and best-known account of intentionality, let us consider one by Tim Crane.10 It has to do with something so far not given much attention, a consensus that while intentionality is a feature of most conscious or mental states, it is not a feature of all of them. It is not a feature of such bodily sensations as having a pain and such moods or feelings as truly undirected anxiety or depression. As is commonly said, they are not about or of anything. The proposition we are about to consider is also different in another way. The previous ones, those that do not change the subject, have at least the smell of the sense-datum theory of perception about them. Here, we get rid of it.

In this exposition, tentative and not doctrinally-burdened, the consensus about bodily sensations and moods not being intentional is at least questioned. The essential first move in this connection, certainly arresting, is simply to detach the supposed fact of intentionality from a mental state's being (1) oft anything, or (2) about anything, or its representing anything. The facts that a pain and being gloomy about nothing in particular are not of or about anything, and do not represent anything -- these were of course just the reasons that those states were not regarded as intentional. Now these states can be intentional. The main plank of the proposition is said to be captured by or expressed in or inspired by what we have treated as a guiding remark, that (6) we do not just believe or desire or see, but believe or desire or see something.11 This main plank is as follows. [to ed: sic]

What it is for something to be an intentional state is for it to be given to the mind.

Particular accounts are given of the pain and gloom. With respect to the pain, it is first contemplated that an internal mental object is presented to the mind. However, an alternative acount is preferred, one that takes being in pain to be a case of being aware of something non-mental -- one's body, or a state of it, or bodily events in it.12 With respect to the undirected gloom, what is mainly said is that really it is in a way or ways directed. As Sartre held, emotions in general are a mode of apprehending the real world. This is a kind of direct realism about pains and gloom.

So we have these two instances of something being 'given to the mind,' which fact is the fact of intentionality. The view is said to be close to previous propositions of intentionality for two reasons. One, alas, is that it involves what appears to be a relation in consciousness between thinkers and the objects of their thoughts -- despite the fact, as is allowed, that this cannot be true in general. Secondly, the view is true to the idea so far unmentioned that when something is apprehended as the object of an intentional state, it is apprehended in a certain way. This is an idea closely associated with intensionality with an 's.'

This view must prompt a number of reflections. One, of some importance, has to do with the initial remarks, also a matter of consensus, that an intentional state certainly is about something or of something. There is also the philosophical commonplace that an intentional state represents something. Are these items not pretty much the heart of the matter? The ease with which this heart is jettisoned should go some way to curing anyone of the thought that with intentionality we have philosophical propositions that at least have agreed foundations. To say the least, things are not that clear. And, putting aside foundations, there is not even a decent consistency in what we get. But another reflection is as important.

We have long had philosophical accounts of the various kinds of consciousness -- including accounts of seeing and other perceiving, and of sensations like pain, and of being subject to the emotions. Accounts of the latter two things are offered in the doctrine we are considering. A view of seeing and other perceiving is also favoured in the doctrine -- direct realism, in line with what is preferred in connection with the pain and gloom. The doctrine's main aim, however, is to characterize a wholly pervasive character of consciousness. The aim is rightly higher than a certain disjunction: consciousness is either such-and-such, as when it consists in seeing and the like, or such and such, with pain and the like, or.... The aim, rather, is to come up with a common character of conscious events, their intentionality.

We have the sum total of that character, I take it, when we are told that in consciousness something is given to the mind. Regarded as a philosophical account, this is very safe, because it says so very little. In fact it would fit well into the initial remarks which we began. Presumably more than a metaphor is intended, but what? My apprehension is that we learn nothing from this account. If it goes beyond the remark that (6) in believing, desiring and seeing we believe, desire and see something, where does it go? Is it helped on its way at all by additional unexplained talk of 'directedness?'

The thinness can be made clear in a particular way. Consider the 'of-ness,' 'about-ness' and representativeness of other mental states than pain and gloom etc., those that do indeed seem to have this character, belief above all. Is this what it is for them to be instances of something's being given to the mind or is it not? If it is, then we have no general philosophical account of intentionality, one that also applies to the pain and gloom. This is the disjunctive failure. But if the 'of-ness' etc. is not what it is for something to be given to the mind, then what is this givenness? Could it be that what we have here is no more than a generalized direct realism -- something pretty unlikely to throw light on consciousness itself, a fundamental character of it. In direct realism's talk of direct awareness, it has never analysed awareness, but only asserted it to be direct.

The doctrine under consideration also has in it something else to give us pause. Not only conscious states can have things given to them. Unconscious ones can. Well then, what is it for something to be given to something else if the latter thing is not conscious -- if it is, as presumably it is, a neural structure? Do remember, by the way, if you are willing to tolerate non-conscious representation, that this givenness of something is specifically not its being represented by or to anything.

Let me also remark quickly, as in another case earlier, that if we are giving an analysis of a fundamental fact of consciousness or mentality, and something called 'the mind' turns up in it essentially, we are not a long way forward. Finally, and as important as anything else, there is that matter of a wonky relation between thinkers and the objects of their thoughts. Can you say, in effect, as our philosopher does in this case, that something is usually a relation but sometimes is not? That in general intentionality is a relation, but not always?13 No you can't. At best you face immediate questions. What is that thing? One thing that it isn't is a relation.

5. Contents as Experiences

Let us finish this survey by looking a little more closely at what got some attention earlier, Searle's doctrine in his book Intentionality.14 There is too much of it to be encapsulated in a sentence or two, but it is in part that in your now being aware of this room, there exists something called a content, but no directedness towards it. Nor, then, is there anything that is directed towards it. What can be said, at most, is that a person has the experience. The content, then, is no object of awareness. It is not a sense-datum, sensum, impression, copy, kind of picture or the like -- this doctrine, like the previous one, is presumably a version of direct realism as against the representative theory or phenomenalism. The content is not a 'linguistically realized' item either.15

Despite not being any of these things, however, it is something else. This content is directed to something. It is a propositional content or representative content. It may represent an object or state of affairs, as in the case of your awareness of a yellow station wagon or of this room. Or, it may represent without there being any object or state of affairs that it represents.

Several other things are said along these lines of contents in general. One is that instead of taking a conscious experience to be a relation between a person and the content, it would be more accurate to say the experience was identical with the content somehow realized. With respect to the representative character of the content, gestured at by what is admitted to be only the metaphor of directedness, it is allowed that it is not possible to give an analysis of it in simpler terms. Intrinsic intentionality is a ground-floor property of the mind.

Despite this, however, as you have heard earlier, light can be shed on the intentionality of the mind  by way of the derived intentionality or representativeness of sentences of language, real pictures, and so on. These latter things, in what is called their logical character as against any of their ontological realizations, are a matter of (i) a truth condition or other 'condition of satisfaction,' (ii) a psychological mode, such that the sentence or whatever is a belief, desire or the like, which mode determines (iii) direction of fit. In the case of a sentence that is a belief, the belief needs to fit the world, rather than the world be changed to fit the belief, as in the case of a command. So with your awareness of this room, and perceptual consciousness in general. To speak of any content being a representation is just shorthand for such 'logical' facts about it.

To return to perceptual experience in particular, it is added that it has what are spoken of as phenomenal properties. Above all, while it is true that your being aware of this room is more or less a representation, it is more natural tor regard it as a presentation of a state of affairs -- directly of it, immediate, and involuntary. Also, with perceptual experience, it enters into the content somehow that the content is caused by the object it represents. This is 'shown' in the experience. Finally, a perceptual content may involve an aspect under which an object is presented, as in the case of Wittgenstein's duck/rabbit drawing.

Is this account of intentionality a damage to consciousness as existence? The account of seems to me both impressive and a disaster -- being philosophy, it can be both. If it escapes metaphor, scientism and spirituality, it faces some of the same seemingly insuperable difficulties as its predecessors. Also, for a large reason not yet given, it seems in the end to raise a question about itself, a general question about the interpretation of itself.

The exclusion of anything about a relation of a content to anything so vague as the mind or the like is of course understandable. But the exclusion is also impossible. It runs up against the seeming necessity that a representation is something that is to or for someone or something. A mark or propositional content or whatever such that there is no possibility of there being a reading or understanding of it by something is no representation. This remains true if representation is reduced to satisfaction-conditions and so on.

It thus seems that eschewing of the vagueness of a mind or whatever in relation to the content will not do. An account of that thing to which something is a representation is needed, and no account at all is given. Nor, secondly, is any account given of any relation from the thing to the representation. That is quite as bad, not an incidental failing.

To come on to the other relation, content to object, there is the other old difficulty of there being no sense in talk of a dyadic relation with only one term. There still is a relation asserted, of course, when representation is conceived in the way just mentioned, by way of the several notions -- satisfaction-conditions and so on. It is no good saying, as it is said, that intentionality cannot be 'an ordinary relation' since the object or state of affairs at one end of it need not exist.16 It obviously cannot be a relation at all. Ordinary, extraordinary, plain, fancy or of any other kind.

To come on to other difficulties of this account, they involve us in what seems to be a general question of how to interpret it. It may seem in a way clear enough. The content of a perceptual experience is not an object of awareness, not seen, not a sense-datum or the like, and not  a linguistically realized item. However, that does not exclude a related possibility -- very likely exactly what you have had in mind in contemplating the whole story. It is just that the content is within or a part of the experience, in consciousness, something reportable without inference.

One reason for this interpretation is that the content, as you will remember, is on the way to being identical with the experience, and that the experience is of course something had by the perceiver, something that is experienced by the perceiver. It is at least indicative, too, that it is said that such a content, which has a self-referential side having to do with causation mentioned in passing earlier, can be made explicit in a certain form. 'I have a visual experience (that there is a yellow station wagon there and that there is a yellow station wagon there is causing this visual experience.)'17

That same conclusion, that the content is within consciousness as a part, can be based as well on the content's having, as you will remember, such phenomenal properties as being a presentation. It seems we can tell or indeed are given this difference of perceptual experience from other consciousness. Remember as well that perceptual experience may involve an aspect under which an object is presented. It is certainly worth keeping in mind, too, that Searle's official position with respect to the ontology of conscious events is against reductionism -- against, as it seems, their having only neural properties.18 Further, while he does indeed distinguish his position from phenomenalism or the representative theory of perception, he stresses that for him experiences are real in a way that he takes to be denied in some other versions of direct realism.

The burden of all this is that the account we are considering is that in seeing the room we have the content in our experience -- and, as we know, it is certainly not the object, which is such a thing as the yellow station wagon out there in the world. This is all very well, but there are reasons for hesitation. The situation is close to the one in Searle's philosophy of mind looked at earlier (pp. 000-000). There are reasons to consider a very different interpretation. It is that the content of which we have heard so much is not in consciousness.

We have learned in recent philosophy of mind that the language of consciousness is easily degraded. The meanings of terms can be reduced to what is far less than the realities the terms are supposed to be about. This is true of 'consciousness,' of course, and 'content' itself, and 'information', but also such other terms as have turned up in the exposition of this doctrine of intentionality, including 'experienced,' 'representation,' 'aspect' and so on. It does indeed seem unlikely that Searle should be among the degraders, given his role as the hammer of the artificial intelligentsia.19 But for certain reasons it is not impossible.

One reason of which you heard earlier is that he insists that his doctrine gives the logical properties of intentionality, and not the ontology of the experiences that realize those properties. The distinction is perhaps sufficiently clear, and it does certainly leave us with the question of the ontology or actual nature of perceptual consciousness. We hear about that in another book we have considered, The Rediscovery of the Mind.20

We are told there that a reductionist account of the nature of perceptual consciousness is not intended, but it is uncertain how such an account is avoided. To repeat a principal contention of mine, it certainly is not avoided by what is mainly said of consciousness, that it consists in higher-level biological events of the brain caused by lower-level wholly neural events in the brain. That description, certainly, allows the higher-level events to be wholly neural.

It is not reassuring either that in one place in Intentionality where he says his contents are not objects, that there are no internal objects of awareness, he also goes further. 'The visual experience is not the object of visual perception, and the features which specify the intentional content are not in general literal features of the experience.'21 That does not sound at all like the first interpretation -- content in consciousness. Do we need to hear all the lines about experience, awareness and so on in a way very differently from before?

Let me notice in passing, on the way to a conclusion about the interpretation of the doctrine, that there is a special difficulty in saying that no analysis is possible of the intrinsic intentionality of consciousness. If this ground-floor property of the mind does defy any analysis, how can we know that light is shown on it by the intentionality of language, pictures and so on derived from it? This is not obvious, if only for the reason that there is no sense in which causes have to be like their effects.

Let me notice, too, that there is a remarkable difference between derived intentionality and intrinsic intentionality. With derived intentionality we have actually got representations -- words in English, sentences, pictures, images and so on. When I use your name in saying good morning to you, that representation of you is about as real as you. If we cannot actually find any analogue with intrinsic intentionality, why should it be thought that it can have light cast on it by derived intentionality? How could something so unlike intrinsic intentionality cast any light at all?

I shall not attempt to settle the general question of interpretation that has emerged, opt for one thing rather than the other. Like much philosophy, what we have may be an attempt to have it both ways. Let me suggest, rather, that we have a dilemma. If content is taken to be within consciousness, there is a large problem, and if it is not so taken, there is as much of a problem.

With respect to the first supposition, that contents are within consciousness, parts of perceptual experience -- this is false. It is not only false that in perceptual experience we have a content as a sense-datum or other object of awareness. It is as false that we have the content otherwise conceived somehow within or as a part of the experience. What I have in my awareness of this room is nothing more than this room. What we get, to speak in Searle's terms, is just the object. We just get the station-wagon itself. That is the so-called phenomenology of it, as noted already with several other propositions of intentionality. So on this interpretation of the proposition what we again get is the imposition of a fiction on what we know. No more needs to be said.

The second interpretation is that really Searle wishes to relocate all that stuff about content out of consciousness as we have a grip on it. On his account correctly understood, it is really somewhere else. It is in the neural facts. The proper response to this is the same as before, with another proposition of intentionality, the second we looked at it. It is that we are left with no account at all of perceptual consciousness itself, and no reason for changing the subject.

6. A Mess

So much for this last thinking about intentionality -- now let me rehearse our advance through the various propositions or doctrines.

It seemed possible in the beginning that an adequate account of perceptual consciousness needs to satisfy a requirement having to do with intentionality conveyed by a number of remarks, the first being that consciousness is typically of something. The remarks in question have issued in a number of philosophical propositions or doctrines of or related to intentionality that can enter into dualisms and the like. We have looked at these propositions of intentionality in order to see if any of them do have to be added to these philosophies of mind, destructively in the case of consciousness as existence.

They do not. They do not satisfy any requirement of interest. This is because these propositions are a mess. I have been a little relentless in laying out objections to them, some of which may have been noted by you before. My aim has partly been to reinforce a suspicion or at any rate a tentativeness that should have become a suspicion -- maybe a suspicion or tentativeness less expressed because of the idea that there is no alternative to some proposition of intentionality or other. In any case, the propositions are a mess. Searle was on the way to a truth, which humanly he did not reach, when he took only the intentionality tradition before him to 'something of a mess'.22

The largest reason for my judgement, now familiar, is that what most of the propositions centrally affirm, a content or object internal to perceptual consciousness, is a fiction. The appearance and reality of perceptual consciousness has no such thing in it. The second reason is the nonsense of a relation to an object or state of affairs that does not exist or need not exist, a dyadic relation with one term. The third is the vagueness of that to which something is a representation, maybe a mind. The fourth is obscurity about the second relation, often said to be representation. A fifth, as with Crane, is the obscurity of some relation or other, givenness, in the direct realism. A sixth, in the case of several propositions, is incompleteness. A seventh, in two cases, is missing the subject entirely. Finally, there is the uncertainty about the general interpretation of the fullest account, Searle's, which helps to open it to all of the objections already mentioned.

One principal conclusions in this paper, then, is that we need to give up on propositions of intentionality -- anything of the sort we have considered -- in connection with perceptual consciousness. Propositions of intentionality have no such future. Another conclusion is that these propositions do no damage at all to the theory of perceptual consciousness as existence. That is not all. Reflection on the propositions actually favours perceptual consciousness as existence, in various ways.

The theory does not exactly follow from, but is certainly suggested by, there being no content or object within perceptual consciousness. Might it be that it is only this theory that that is both arguable and also consistent with the fact of the missing content or object?

The theory is suggested too by the nonsense about a relation lacking a term. In perceptual consciousness as existence, there is no such relation -- and thus no relation that can tempt anyone in the direction of the nonsense. You are right to suppose there are other relations, between a world of perceptual consciousness and the scientific world, and between a world of perceptual consciousness and a brain, and between such a world and the perceived part of the physical world, but no question whatever arises of a relation existing in the absence of one of its terms. If consciousness as existence has to fit in illusion and hallucination, which it does, and about which not enough has been said so far,23 it does not have to do so by pretending that a non-relation is a relation.

There is the very same story with our other reflections on the propositions of intentionality -- incompleteness, vagueness about the possessor or whatever of a representation, obscurity about the relation of this thing to the representation, obscurity of the relation of representation to an object, and missing the subject-matter entirely. These shortcomings of philosophical propositions of intentionality -- not to mention startling inconsistencies between them -- point to something very different, arguably the theory of perceptual consciousness we have been considering.

Let us return briefly to the bundle of remarks with which we began, the folk psychology as against the developed philosophical accounts of intentionality. How does percepetual consciousness as existence stand to that bundle? Also, how much of a requirement on accounts of perceptual consciousness is the bundle? Does perceptual consciousness as existence, for a start, accord with the remark that (3) in consciousness there is something before the mind?

Well, you could say that the view actually gets rid of the distinction between 'the mind' and 'something before it' -- thereby meaning just the central proposition that to be perceptually conscious is for a world in a way to exist. You could also say, however, that the view gives a certain sense to the remark that in consciousness something is before the mind -- that in a perceptual experience there exists a particular world rather than any other. You could say, too, that our existentialism about consciousness does better than did certain propositions of intentionality in accomodating the remark. My own first reaction, however, is one that does not accord too much respect to the remark. It is that it is a recommendation of the view that it gets rid of the mind as a ghostly entity, which the remark seems to take it to be.

So too with the remark that (4) the mind has a capacity to direct itself at things. Of this it can also be said that in a perceptual experience there exists a particular world rather than any other. But I leave to you further reflection on the bundle and the extent to which we have catered for it, and how far we should be constrained by it.

Finally, three general reflections on intentionality from elsewhere.

The first is by the distinguished Brentano and Husserl scholar, Reinhardt Grossman.24   It is about dilemmas, and begins with what can seem to be one -- that in perceptual and other consciousness either the mind is related to what is before it or it is not. The second horn of this dilemma is a horn because there is no plausible non-relational account. The first horn is a horn because it leads to difficulties of which you have heard something from me. That is, a relational account must deal with the proposition that we can believe in and desire things that do not exist. Thus what we have is either that there can be a relation to things that do not exist, a weird relation, or certain things that do not really exist do somehow exist -- another dilemma.

In the tradition of Brentano and Husserl, I take it, the response to the first dilemma has indeed been that there is no non-relational account of perceptual consciousness. Thereafter a lot of fortitude has gone into trying to make sense of a relation underdescribed as weird, or to make sense of objects that somehow do not and also do exist. As you will anticipate, my response is different. We need not get into all that deep water, since, to go back to the first dilemma, so-called, there now is a non-relational account of perceptual consciousness -- as a kind of existence.

The second reflection is by Quine.25  It has to do with both the tradition of Brentano and also his idea, so far unmentioned, that intentionality is not only the mark of the mental but something that cannot be accounted for in physical terms. There can be no account of it that preserves a naturalism. Quine's response in effect is that if there is inconsistency between a supposed fact of intentionality and naturalism, then it is the supposed fact that must be given up. Does this response come to an entire disregarding of the requirement we have been considering on an account of consciousness? Does it come to supposing there is no sense or truth in the remark that in the consciousness on which we have a grip something is before the mind? Then it is no tolerable conclusion.

But that does not drive us far from Quine's position. If the choice was between something about the mind inconsistent not only with naturalism but also with the near-naturalism of perceptual consciousness as existence, my own inclination would be to give up that thing. That is not the choice we face. It may be a recommendation of taking perceptual consciousness to be a kind of existence that we can satisfy what requirements we need to satisfy in connection with intentionality and still remain philosophically respectable.

The third reflection is Jerry Fodor's, often reported, that '...if aboutness is real, it must really be something else.'26 What is supposed to stand in the way of taking aboutness to be real? Fodor's  answer, and the answer of many, is that it has seemed not to fit into naturalism at all, and particularly has not been open to the hopeless causal analysis mentioned earlier.27 That is, there is no serious chance of taking B's being a representation of A as just the fact that A causes B.

A response to Fodor is that getting near to naturalism is enough, and certainly that it would be absurd to suppose that intentionality is somehow non-causal. But of course consciousness as existence is near-naturalism and is a causal account of perceptual consciousness. Aboutness is real, and no doubt is more a fact of more of consciousness than perceptual consciousness. But, given our account of perceptual consciousness as the basis of consciousness generally, aboutness really is something else than has been supposed. He's right about that.


1.  T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962)

2.  Cornell University Press.

3. 'Intentionality,' in Robert Audi, ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

4. Psychology From an Empirical Standpoint, ed. Oskar Kraus, Linda L. McAlister (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), p. 88. For interpretation of the paragraph, in particular in connection with existence-in rather than non-existence, see David Bell, Husserl (Routledge, 1990), Ch. 1.

5. For introductory sketches of intentionality, see Stephen Priest, Theories of the Mind (Penguin Books, 1991); Owen Flanagan, The Science of the Mind (MIT Press, 1984),  Robert Stalnaker, Inquiry (MIT Press, 1984), Ch. 1, and Tim Crane, 'Intentionality,' Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Routledge, 1998), ed. Edward Craig.

6. Perceiving

7. See my A Theory of Determinism or Mind and Brain, both p. 71 ff.

8. Tim Crane, 'Representation,' Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

9.  Cf. Jerry A. Fodor, Psychosemantics: The Problem of Meaning in the Philosophy of Mind (Bradford Books, 1987).

10. 'Intentionality as the Mark of the Mental,' in Current Issues in the Philosophy of Mind, Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures for 1996-97, pp. 229-251

11. 'Intententionality as the Mark of the Mental', pp. 246, 238, 243

12. M. G. F.  Martin, 'Setting Things Before the Mind,' in Current Issues in the Philosophy of Mind.

13. 'Intentionality as the Mark of the Mental,' p. 244.

14. Cambridge University Press, 1983

15. Intentionality, p. 6

16. Intentionality, p. 4 

17. Intentionality, p. 48

18. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (MIT Press, 1992), p. xi ff, p. 1 ff, p. 113 ff.

19. Searle's well-known Chinese Room argument is in 'Minds, Brains and Programs', Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1980. 

20. Pp. 000-000 [104-127]

21. Intentionality, p. 44, p. 45

22. Intentionality, p. 1

23. The matter comes up again in the last chapter in this book.

24. 'Intentional Relation,' in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1995), ed. Ted Honderich

25. Word and Object (Wiley, 1960), p. 221

26. Psychosemantics: The Problem of Meaning in the Philosophy of Mind, p. 97

27. See p. 000.

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