Sensation, intentionality, and animal consciousness

Ratio 8 (2):128-42 (1995)
In general, seventeenth‐century philosophers seem to have assumed that intentionality is an essential characteristic of our mental life. Malebranche is perhaps the only philosopher in the period who stands out clearly against the prevailing orthodoxy; he is committed to the thesis that there is a large class of mental items ‐ sensations ‐ which have no representational content. In this paper I argue that due attention to this fact makes it possible to mount at least a partial defence of his notorious doctrine of ‘the rainbow‐coloured soul’; Malebranche's doctrine is a striking anticipation of modern adverbial theories of sensation. I then argue that failure to appreciate the non‐intentional character of sensations for Malebranche vitiates one recent attempt to explain why he accepted the Cartesian doctrine of the beastmachine; in contrast to the Radners, I suggest that Malebranche has the philosophical resources to offer an interesting theory of animal consciousness, and that his failure to develop such a theory rests largely on his acceptance of certain theological arguments. The paper ends by speculating about how Malebranche's theological commitments may have encouraged him to adopt the philosophically important thesis that intentionality is not the mark of the mental
Keywords Metaphysics  Mind  Sensation  Theology  Malebranche
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9329.1995.tb00075.x
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Walter Ott (2014). Malebranche and the Riddle of Sensation. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 88 (3):689-712.

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