Why it is hard to naturalize attitude aboutness

In W. Hinzen & H. Rott (eds.), Belief and Meaning. Hänsel-Hohenhausen. pp. 157-179 (2002)
Alberto Voltolini
Università degli Studi di Torino
Over the last twenty years, many attempts have been made to discard the intentionality possessed by prima facie contentful mental states (intentional acts; atttudes, in Russell’s terms), where this is understood as the special, mental-orsemantic, quality of being ‘directed’ upon something. This has also involved dispensing with special ‘aboutness’-properties like being about O, which stand to intentionality as species to genus. These naturalistic strategies have been oriented in two ontologically different ways, conservative or revolutionary. The first has been pursued either reductionalistically or non-reductionalistically. The reductionist is a radical naturalist, who believes that intentionality exists, but it is a quality in nature investigated by the empirical sciences. The non-reductionist, vice versa, is a moderate naturalist, for whom intentionality merely supervenes on a non- mental-or-semantic quality. The revolutionary option, on the other hand, is eliminativistic. The position is one of extremist naturalism, for which intentionality exists no more than phlogiston or sunsets. In what follows, I first criticize the reductionists’ position. By relying on the two main features of intentionality, namely that of being ‘directed upon’ an object which may not exist and that of being an internal relation between the relevant attitude and such an object, I try to show why reduction of any kind - conceptual, metaphysical or nomological - cannot work. Secondly, the second features then allows me to show why moderate naturalism is also doomed to fail. Finally, I argue against eliminativism by showing that, qua genuine property, intentionality is indispensable for the individuation of attitudes. It thus turns out that attitudes endowed with intentionality as well as with the related ‘aboutness’-property are individuated in terms of non-natural properties. This is to say, beliefs as well as all other prima facie contentful mental states are effectively contentful insofar as they possess a particular ‘aboutness’-property..
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