Intentionality III

The existence-independent and concept-dependent character of Intentionality

I have been arguing in this thesis that meaning which accrues to the questioning being constitutes identity. I have argued that one’s identity furthermore is audited as identity-sense against the criterion of one’s desire for significance and capacity for purpose. One might argue that this is problematic because one’s identity is not a thing that exists anywhere. There is no collected store of meaning at any one time that I can access and measure, consequently it is problematic to claim that I can take a relational stance towards this accretion of meaning as if it were a tangible extra-mental object.

My intentionality can be directed towards the content of experience that is not existent somewhere in the world

My intentionality can be directed towards the content of experience that is not existent somewhere in the world

It has however been convincingly noted that to imagine Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek mythology, is to construct an imaginative representation ‘of’ Pegasus to which no existing object is externally related. The point of interest here is that intentionality can both construct and critique such a construct and form a ‘true belief’ that something is non-existent, or not existent as claimed, a belief which ‘cannot be “about” any object that actually does exist’. I can take such a critical stance against a dreamed experience in the same way too. I am indebted therefore to Husserl’s observation that the intentionality of an act is independent of the existence of its object, ‘even when it is related to something extra-mental’. My consciousness can be critically directed towards this perceived identity that is nowhere as such for Intentionality has ‘existence independence’.[1]

The phenomenological character, or the ‘what it is like’ of my identity-sense as an experience of perceived identity, whilst being an experience of a world I am embedded in, is nevertheless transcendent of that situated experience. A further characteristic feature of my identity-sense is that whatsoever my experience is directed towards, the intentionality goes through ‘internal’ changes that are independent of what is actually true externally.

For Husserl it is not the object of intentionality that determines the manner in which one is ‘directed towards’ but the content. Thus ‘the intentionality of a mental state’ is not equivalent to the being related to some kind of object.  My identity-sense therefore as an intentionality towards my identity does not just depend on the object represented but the conception of the object represented. My first-person perception, or indeed conception of an experienced thing is that which determines the manner of my being ‘directed towards. This has been defined as ‘conception-dependence’.[2] I contend accordingly that conscious intentionality, in particular my identity-sense as an experience directed towards my perceived identity, is existence-independent and concept-dependent.

[1] McIntyre, R. and Woodruff Smith, D. The Theory of Intentionality, in (Eds.) J. N. Mohanty and William R. McKenna, Husserl’s Phenomenology: A Textbook, Washington, D.C. Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of America, 1989, 4-5

[2] Ibid


7 thoughts on “Intentionality III

  1. The rough, distant connection in my language to ‘conception-dependence’ is the idea of having ‘filters’ for the way we perceive.


    • There is some resonance I think between them I agree, and we certainly have filters. The idea of filtering is also akin to my notion of auditing. I guess the question is to what extent these are tacit or explicit, acknowledged or denied.


        • How about these question Donna? Is life, from the moment it is first sensed, to the closing moments of consciousness, coloured by mood, preference or ‘life-stance’? Is it artificial to attempt to withdraw? Is any attempt at transcendental stoicism (indifference) like an ejected pilot’s self-suspension from a parachute attached to a tree who’s in denial of both?


  2. My answer (whether valid or explicable) is Yes – life is unavoidably coloured. And no one’s life is coloured the same. I view an attempt to withdraw as an attempt to alter the original mood, preference or life-stance (in our search for significance and purpose). I don’t know if that makes withdrawal artificial as much as it makes it unoriginal.

    But if by withdrawal you mean an attempt at complete and permanent transcendence from our original (or current) colouring, I think we could attain 98% indifference, but not complete. And I cannot fathom significance or purpose being attained in that condition.


    • That sounds like a convincing assessment to me. One of the reasons that Husserl’s method of doing philosophy recommends that one withdraws to hold in abeyance that which is generally taken for granted in order to examine it, but inevitably one must return to what he called the ‘natural attitude’. Adam Smith’s hypothesising and Kierkegaard’s judgement that life is lied forward (in motion and choice) and understood backwards (in analysis and reflection) both have to wrestle with the same dilemma. In choosing and appropriating the world we are being human, but in analysis and reflection we are attempting an intersubjective view, or a view from nowhere. Ultimately if we succeed in withdrawing significance and purpose must be forfeited.


      • I resonate with that dilemma. The blessing of waking up, being aware enough to analyze and reflect, can also be the curse of pursuing understanding and meaning if its not found before weariness and doubt join the mix. Maybe returning to the ‘natural attitude’ is a forfeiting, an attempt to squelch reflection.


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