[hist-analytic] Mele 5: Consciousness and Intention

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Sat Feb 26 19:46:15 EST 2011

Neither Mele's distinction between standing and occurrent intentions nor his distinction between two types of occurrent intentions (EI p. 2) is helpful in giving a clear account of the role of thought in action. Mele cites an important passage from Wegner. 

"The new idea introduced here is the possibility that the experience of acting developes when the person infers that his or her own *thought* (read intention, but belief and desire are, also, important) was the cause of the action." (Wegner, _The Illusion of Conscious Will_ MIT. 2002. p. 66) 

The thought as intention if proximal or occurrent is more than a disposition. But the distinction between dispositional and episodic (standing or occurrent) will not suffice to elucidate the difference between the intention that moves me to move my hand now and the intention I had yesterday to do what I have just done. We can move freely between "left handed opening of the door" as a standing disposition's thought and "left handed opening of the door, now" without a change in mood. But moving from either to "left handed opening of the door!" involves a change in mood and is, somewhat, similar to the difference between a thought for Frege and an assertion. 

While I am sympathetic to his objectives and reasoning in many cases, particularly when directed against Libet, I would raise a question I don't believe he has asked: "What is the function of consciousness?" On the view I, presently, take, the function of consciousness is to bring information into an evaluative mode by setting it within (for lack of a better word) action understood as a module of behavior, a faculty of rational action; it is preparation for subsequent action should the imminent action fail. More on this latter. This will involve much unpacking, to be sure. The causes of an action may include thought but thoughts need not be conscious in order to be causes. Mele would, I think, agree with this in spirit, at the very least. Where we differ, perhaps, is in the role I assign consciousness. This is a problem for many philosophers of mind. J. Kim is a good example because he's brought the supervenience theory to near perfection but is susceptible to criticism based on how he deals with this very question. Later, I shall investigate this in some detail as I branch out to include Kim as a major figure in my criticisms of current thinking on philosophy of mind and not just the problem of mind-body identity. Conscious withholding is as much a part of our understanding of intentional action as "effective intention." 

I want to say that intention is neither a property nor an event; it is more properly understood as a state of mind, the mind of a person or self. Next I will take up a distinction between two sorts of unconscious intentions. I will use the case of articulatory coarticulation as the basis for proposing an experiment that might obviate some the most cogent criticisms lodged against Libet by Mele. 

Steve Bayne 
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