Interactivist Summer Institute

July 22 - 26, 2003


Intentionality from phenomenological, analytic and interactivist perspectives.

Helena De Preester Wayne Christensen

In this paper we will show how an interactivist approach to intentionality can address some outstanding issues for the phenomenological and analytic traditions. Despite many changes in the conception of intentionality in the course of its history, the problem at stake has always been the following: how does a being relate itself to something non-self, how is it capable of having something as an object? For phenomenology this has been the starting point for two related but distinguishable projects: an investigation of fundamental epistemology, developed by Husserl in the form of the transcendental reduction, and a descriptive characterization of the qualitative nature of experience. The transcendental reduction attempted to explain the preconditions for experience, including scientific investigation, and as such motivated Husserl to regard phenomenology as an anti-naturalist “first philosophy”. More recently the project of naturalizing phenomenology has sought to abandon this anti-naturalism in favour of engagement with the cognitive sciences. A consequence of this, though, is that the epistemic project has been lost, taking only the descriptive part of phenomenology into account. An approach to intentionality that leaves out epistemology has missed a core part of the subject matter.

For analytic philosophy the issue of intentionality has been approached via representation, which is regarded as the wellspring of “aboutness”. But in concentrating on representation the analytic approach has ignored the problem of understanding the origins of intentional perspective. What sort of thing is it that is capable of intentionality? What are the conditions in which intentionality arises? In contrast, the concerted focus of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty on this issue has been one of the most important contributions of phenomenology to an understanding of intentionality.

Interactivism provides a new and distinctive approach to intentionality. It begins by developing a biologically and socially based account of the kinds of agents that are capable of intentionality, and it characterises the interactive circumstances in which intentionality plays an epistemic role. Interactivism thus connects closely with Merleau-Ponty’s exploration of the role of embodiment and interaction in intentionality, but it also parallels the epistemological concerns with intentional perspective evident in both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Because it treats the basis of intentional perspective from a biological standpoint it is naturalistic whilst avoiding the problem of only taking the descriptive part of phenomenology into account, as the project of naturalizing phenomenology in general does. Moreover focusing on the issue of intentional perspective gives interactivism some important explanatory leverage over the analytic approach. Although it has become increasingly commonplace in analytic philosophy to recognise that knowledge always has inherent perspective, the positive role that perspective plays in creating the conditions for knowledge has not been properly considered. The attention that interactivism gives to this allows it to explain a number of kinds of phenomena that are deeply problematic for the analytic approach, including fundamental conceptual innovation and reorganization.


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