Intentionality in General
<This essay was published in Research in Phenomenology, Volume 4, John Sallis, ed. (Humanities Press, 1974) 7-12. The pagination of that publication is reproduced here in angle brackeds placed within the text. As its first note says, the publication reproduced a paper read in “Symposium: The Contribution of Dorion Cairns to Phenomenology”, held under the auspices of the Husserl Circle at the University of Waterloo, Canada, May 5, 1973. The lack referred to in its three first paragraphs has become still more acute in the interval, phenomenology being now all but submerged in the sea of babble that is Continental Philophosy.>
Weighing the topic of this symposium, I have come to hope that Dorion Cairns's contribution to phenomenology has not yet arrived, not fully arrived in any event. To date, the effects of Cairns's work, so far as they are observable, are by no means commensurate with what his contribution might and should be. A direct impact of his thought on the phenomenological movement as a whole is discernible only in a few of his closer students. The course of phenomenologyi n North America during the 1950's and most of the 1960's was a disoriented, meandering sort of movement, accompanied by nervous ticks and, all to often, meaningless babble: something Cairns's students could not witness without a sense of frustration over his relative silence. Those who were familiar with them saw that Cairns's acuteness, accuracy, precision and his sense of direction, his accord with the spirit of phenomenology as a strict science, were precisely what the movement lacked. It is still somewhat impoverished in respect of this need, not quite moderately well off. Cairns's contribution I said before-has, I hope, yet to arrive.
So what I shall speak to here is a somewhat reduced version of my topic. The residuum from this reduction is: some of the features most significant for phenomenology of Dorion Cairns's conception of intentionality. In this version of the topic, I mean to avoid suggesting that these features have been actually contributed to the phenomenological movement as a whole or, if they have been, that they have been accepted or even recognized by the movement as a whole.
Most of what follows is based on notes taken by myself and others in Cairns's course "Husserl's Theory of Intentionality." The extension of <8> Cairns's basic insight concerning the nature of intentionality to the conception of phenomenology stated by Husserl in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology is my own though I consider it to be simply an extension.
What Cairns expressed by the word "intentionality" he thought of as a primitive concept, not strictly definable. As he used it, "intentionality" is either a common name or a proper name. As a common name, it stands for individual properties; each such property belongs to a mental process. As a proper name, it stands for a generic universal, one that is exemplified in each and every mental process by the individual intentionality of that process. This indicates a departure from the denotation of the term as it had been used by Husserl. For Cairns, this departure from Husserl was a relatively late development, dating from around 1967 or even later. His lectures before 1967 indicate acceptance of Husserl's view of the flow of hyletic data as a nonintentive component within the stream of mental life.
The individual intentionality of a mental process is inherent in the process itself. Its individual intentionality is better thought of as a qualitative property of the process rather than as a relational property. For the intentionality of a tree-seeing or a glue-smelling or a granny-remembering does not require that any tree or any glue or any granny exist or have existed—a tree and some glue and a granny being the intended objects of the respective mental processes. Any real relation on the other hand (such as cause to effect or contiguity in space or time) would require the real existence of the terms of the relation. Intentionality, however, does not require the real existence of the intended object. Although he used the terms "intentionality" and "intentiveness" synonymously, Cairns preferred the latter, precisely because it seems better to express the qualitative character of the property referred to.
The individual intentionality of a mental process is inherent in the process itself. Its individual intentionality is better thought of as a qualitative property of the process rather than as a relational property. For the intentionality of a tree-seeing or a glue-smelling or a granny-remembering does not require that any tree or any glue or any granny exist or have existed-a tree and some glue and a granny being the intended objects of the respective mental processes. Any real relation on the other hand (such as cause to effect or contiguity in space or time) would require the real existence of the terms of the relation. Intentionality, however, does not require the real existence of the intended object. Although he used the terms "intentionality" and "intentiveness" synonymously, Cairns preferred the latter, precisely because it seems better to express the qualitative character of the property referred to.
By properly emphasizing the qualitative character of intentiveness, certain misunderstandings and criticisms of phenomenology can be mitigated. Husserl thinks of intentionality as a distinguishing character of all mental life. If one also thinks of intentionality as a relation then even the notion of psychological reduction is liable understandably to appear somewhat ridiculous. After all, the phenomenologist proposes by means of the epoch6 to isolate his mental life purely as such for reflective observation. This epoch6 involves disregarding any beliefs-and even any knowledge the observer might have concerning the real relations between this mental life and other entities. The epoché would then involve disregarding intentionality itself if this were considered a real relation.
<9> This way of emphasizing the qualitative nature of intentiveness also shows clearly that, in describing the intentiveness of a mental life or of any process in a life, one is describing that life or that process and nothing more even though the description requires that the intended object be described.
It becomes clear therefore that—as Cairns wrote in 1942—all the entities and relations which the phenomenologist, in maintaining the epoche*, has been disregarding
can—and should—reappear as noematic-intentional objects, within one's isolated field. In particular, the disregarded status of the observed stream of consciousness itself, its status as related to other entities in the world reappears-as a noematic objective sense which the observed consciousness intends. Moreover, as purely eidetic, phenomenology finds that the intrinsic character of any actual consciousness, as intending a world and itself in that world, is an essentially necessary determination of any possible consciousness.'
In turn, this shows that the psychological and transcendental reductions are not to be thought of as abstractive procedures. Husserl himself said as much. But his references to absolute consciousness as the "residuum" were apparently too suggestive of tea leaves to be read or, perhaps, the reconstruction of a ten-course meal on the basis of leftovers retrieved from the garbage. In any event, it ought to have been abundantly clear that nothing whatever which can be intended to in naive attitudes is excluded from the field of phenomenological inquiry.
The psychological and especially the transcendental reductions as understood and employed by Husserl are procedures in a method which in truth is the very opposite of privative; it alone uncovers mental life in its full concreteness and is capable of explicating the manner in which mental life in the world is constituted by the selfsame mental life in its transcendental status. The life-world of which Husserl wrote in The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology is a universe of objective phenomena which are essentially relative to mental life, and he <10> characterizes phenomenology as the only science capable of dealing with these phenomena in their full concreteness as subjective. In doing so, Husserl is explaining to the more obtuse among his readers the range of application for the method outlined in the first book of his Ideas. The method then as in The Crisis is to be that of thoroughgoing, systematic, and scientific reflection on life-world things in the "how" of their manners of givenness.
There are other important features to Cairns's conception of intentiveness. It is primarily the qualitative nature of intentiveness that enables the phenomenologist to describe illusory sense experience without having to claim either that the experience in question was not a genuine sensuous perceiving or that it was a perceiving of something other than its intended object. I should prefer, however, rather than developing further the concept of intentionality as such, to close by considering a somewhat finer point in Dorion Cairns's phenomenology: the division of intentiveness into its objectivating and non-objectivating species.
Cairns believed that failure properly to grasp this dichotomy has been and remains a major source of error and confusion among phenomenologists. In particular, this failing produces a trend toward an anthropomorphic view of mental life, a trend based less upon eidetic insight than upon confusion and obfuscation. The confusion comes from identifying objectivating intentionality with intentionality as such, thus assuming covertly that all mental processes are acts, that the class of non-objectivating mental processes is empty, and that all doxically intended objects have some categorial form. On Cairns's view, none of these covert assumptions are consistent with Husserl's views; and, more importantly, all of them claim an unjustified apodicticity.
An intentive process is said to objectivate if it makes something an object for an ego and confers upon the objectivated object the most primitive categorial form, "this." All of the mental processes which satisfy these conditions are of the sort which Husserl called "doxic." Moreover, among doxic mental processes the only ones which objectivate are those which satisfy both of the following conditions: they are engaged in by the ego and they are monothetic intendings. More precisely, a doxic act objectivates only in so far as it is monothetically intentive; in an act of predicative judging, for example, the objects judged about may be in- <11> tended monothetically and thus objectivated without thereby objectivating the judgment, the state of affairs syntactically formed, as such. In general, "polythetic" or syntactical acts as such do not objectivate anything at all; the categorial form "this" gets bestowed in such an act only by way of monothetic intentiveness to what is being judged about. As such all polythetic acts are non-objectivating mental processes; they never objectivate the syntactical formations which they produce. Moreover, passive processes, processes not engaged in by the ego, whether doxic or nondoxic, would objectivate nothing at all. Finally, non-doxic processes as such, whether engaged in or not, objectivate nothing at all. If in liking a picture, the picture is objectivated, this occurs through a doxic and monothetic intending to the picture (e.g., a perceiving or remembering of it or a consciousness of it as what is reproduced by something seen or remembered, etc.); as such no affective mental process objectivates anything at all. The liking as such objectivates neither the picture as liked nor the liking as liking of the picture, though either of these objectivatings would be potential further acts for an ego in whose life the affective process in question occurs. Similarly, no conative process as such objectivates anything at all. Using a rock as a hammer is what bestows upon the thing its sense as being usable for the intended purpose, but pounding with it does not objectivate the rock's utility as hammer, though such an objectivating would be a further potential act.
If one succeeds in keeping all this in mind, the following distinct types of mental lives must be regarded as eidetic possibilities-at least until <s>ome convincing evidence to the contrary is forthcoming.
1. A life in which no ego ever engages in any mental process at all would include no active processes but might include a variety of affective as well as doxic processes and perhaps even some conative ones.
2. A life in which an ego engages only in affective proeesses suffering pain, for example, or feeling pleasure or attraction or perhaps even joy or fear-would still involve no objectivating mental processes.
3. similarly, in a life in which an ego engaged only in conative processes-striving to do something or other without ever having actively valued anything of the sort-no intended object would ever be categorially formed.
<12>4. A life in which there occur affective and conative acts but no active doxic processes would still include no objectivatings.
5. In a life in which an ego does engage in some doxic processes but engages only monothetically, some intended objects would receive the form "this," but nothing would ever be formed syntactically, and in this sense such a life would be entirely "pre-predicative."
It seems clear that all five of these seemingly possible variations of mental life differ markedly from the lives of virtually all known adult animals of our species. A variety of important practical and "existential" concerns may well render such possibilities irrelevant to the interests of this or that theorist. But any theory which implies that such lives are impossible will not even by very plausible much less acceptable unless it can show on what grounds it alleges their impossibility.
The following essay reproduces a paper read in “Symposium: The Contribution of Dorion Cairns to Phenomenology”, held under the auspices of the Husserl Circle at the University of Waterloo, Canada, May 5, 1973.
"Phenomenology," in Dictionary of Philosophy, edited by Dagobert D. Runes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1942), p. 232b.
Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie (Halle a. d. S.: Max Niemeyer, 1917), Sec. 51.
'Ibid., Sec. 49.
'Edmund Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (Husserliana VI), edited by Walter Biemel (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1954), Sections 29-41.
'Ideen, I, Sec. 117.
Of the five possibilities mentioned, I can recall only the first as having been set forth explicitly in Cairns's lectures. He would, I am virtually certain, have accepted the second as essentially possible. Concerning the last three, I am less sure of Cairns's sanction and have reservations of my own. For the time being, however, 1 find no eidetic laws, formal or material, that are contradicted by the assertion of such possibilities.