[hist-analytic] Mele Pt. 2

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Thu Feb 10 15:09:25 EST 2011

I am going to engage in a running commentary on Mele's book. In some instances, my questions and objections are addressed, later, When this is the case, which will be very rare, I will re-introduce the relevant issue. The topic of neurology and its relation to mind is suffused by previous discussion wherein neurology has played a minimal role, such as the difference between a volition and an intention. 

Current writers are ill disposed to linger on phenomenological facts essential to the discussion and, often, plunge ahead with fashionable philosophy based on "hot" science. Such has been the case in the current discssion of neurology and philosophy of mind. Mele sees this clearly; he is attempting to draw back from the fad of proposing scientific solutions to philosophical problems, particularly given the philosophical illiteracy of those making the boldest claims, e.g. Benjamin Libet and his backers. 

To begin with, I think Libet was a fine scientist and an outstanding neurologist. But when a scientist makes that move from science to philosophy he is usually attempting to enhance the seeming importance of his discoveries, and often derides philosophers, such as Kant, about whom he, typically, knows next to nothing. That having been said let's take a first look at an interesting remark by Mele, a philosopher who could stand to get a bit more acquainted with his predecessors but who is a first class writer with a healthy respect for intellectual honesty. 

Mele distinguishes "standing" and "occurrent" intentions. The former is a disposition to have an occurrent intention. An "occurrent" intention comes in two flavors. The first is where the "occurrent" intention is "suitably at work at that time in producing relevant intentional actions or in producing items appropriate for production of relevant intentional actions." (Effective Intentions (hereafter "IE"), Oxford, 2009, p. 4. But what makes an "occurrent" intention and intention? Indeed, what makes a "standing" intention an intention. There is a, seemingly, deliberate avoidance of raising the question. Is it that anything which "suitably at work at that time in producing relevant intentional actions or in producing items appropriate for production of relevant intentional actions"? What rules out muscle contractions, simpliciter, as occurrent intentions? But, then, which muscle contractions are occurrent intentions in the process of "producing relevant intentional actions"? I think this is cause for some concern. The reason I say this is that there is a distinction to be made between what philosophers have called "volitions" and "intentions." The difference is complex and depends on the philosopher. I will explore this latter, but volitions, according to most philosophers (prior to Anscombe), have been linked to the present, making them "occurrent" or "episodic." But even this is an oversimplification since some philosphers think of volition as an intitiating of some act, whereas others thinking of it as a process requiring an actual change in the world (e.g. Bradley). 

We must, then, be careful at identifying volitions with "occurrent" intentions, especially when we (Mele) have not stated what we take an intention to be. On my view, and others, a volition concerns the present and not what comes before an actual occurrence of deliberate movement, say. On my view, no volition is intentional, although no intentional action is without volition and without an intention there is no volition (being intentional and depending on an intention must be distinguished). Mele does clarify his own position substantially when he remarks that an occurrent intention is an "executive attitude toward plans" and that plans are the "representational content" of occurrent intentions." (IE p. 5) On the view I take, unless a bodily movement is itself planned (and is therefore what I call an "act of will") it never requires an intention, as such. In the typical ("unmarked") case, a bodily movement, even in the exercise of satisfying an intention, is a willful act, not an "act of will." Mele seems oblivious to the distinction, a distinction that has been attributed to some contemporaries but which, in fact, is readily evident in the James chapter on the Will in Psychology vol. II. It is, I believe, Mele's having oversimplified what I would describe as the relation of volition and intention that leads him to characterize intentions as executive. It is more reasonable, by my lights, to restrict actual execution to volition, reserving 'intention' for forward looking actions requiring volition. If I am right, then it is more suitable to describe an intention as "legislative" rather than "executive." Do do the latter conflates volition and intention, although it seems clear that Mele wants to do without volitions. Before proceeding, let's take a look at another distinction Mele discusses. 

Mele tells us that, following Searle, we can distinguish "between an attitude's representational *content* and its psychological *orientation*." (IE p. 6) We can think of orientations as being expressed by verbs of propositional attitude. Content, we can think of as the propositional objects of such attitudes. I would mention that a lot of what Searle has to say in his work, Intentionality, can be found expressed somewhat differently in Bergmann's 1957 essay "Intentionality," and some of Bergmann's own ideas can be viewed as a logical reworking of Okham on "natural signs." Moreover, remarks by Israel Scheffler having to do with an inscriptional approach to belief seems, to me, to be closely related. I set this aside. The content/orientation distinction can be found, also, in Meinong and early Moore, in particular Moore's essay "Idealism." Again, I set this aside. 


STeven R. Bayne 
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