About Aboutness: Thoughts on Intentional Behaviorism

Behavior and Philosophy 35:65 - 76 (2007)
Abstract
The rationale, scientific necessity, and character of intentionality ascriptions (assertions that attribute beliefs, expectations, wishes and such to certain systems) remain unresolved issues in the philosophy of mind and psychology. Foxall's proposed resolution (2007), which he calls "Intentional Behaviorism" (IB), is that intentionality ascriptions should be tied to the experimental analysis of behavior, nervous systems, and evolutionary considerations. Foxall's tone of scientific pluralism and attention to academic philosophy and psychology are steps in the right direction. However, I remain skeptical about IB's adequacy as a philosophical underpinning of psychology. My skepticism stems from IB's a-ontological character (which ignores the nature of intentionality, a major issue in psychology), pragmatist inclination (which invites relativism), and adoption of the linguistic view of intentionality, where intensionality is the defining criterion of intentionality. The linguistic view forces us either to restrict intentionality to humans, a deal-breaker for animal cognition psychologists, of to talk of mental language, a deal-breaker for operant psychologists. Also, an emphasis on extensionality, which is about logical validity and not soundness, fails to capture the emphasis of scientific psychology on evidence as a rationality criterion. Finally, if IB presupposes or entails linguistic anti-nativism, it is unlikely to appeal to evolutionary psychologists. IB would thus be better off by abandoning the linguistic view of intentionality.
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