Improper Intentions of Ambiguous Objects


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Forthcoming in Brentano Studien XIII (2015):

According to the ontological interpretation of Brentano’s intentionality, the intentionality of consciousness does not consist in a special relation to ordinary objects, but in an ordinary relation to special objects: “intentional objects”. These would have a special kind of existence “short of actuality but more than nothingness” (Chisholm). In several articles Mauro Antonelli and Werner Sauer have advanced a systematical criticism of this interpretation. The central quotation they bring to bear against the ontological interpretation and the object-theory comes from a letter of Brentano to Anton Marty of 17-03-1905:

However, it has never been my view that it would be the case that the immanent object = “presented object”. The presentation does not have “presented thing”, but “the thing”, so e.g. the presentation of a horse not “presented horse”, but “horse” as (immanent, i.e. the only kind of object in the proper sense) object.

The error would consist in equating in all respects the objects of the first and of the second intention: the object of e.g. external perception and the object of internal perception. The “presented horse” is the (partial) object of the internal perception, while the object of the external perception would simply be the horse itself. However, the latter claim must be made with great caution: to be the object of any act means, as Brentano himself says in the letter, to be an immanent object. So, according to Antonelli, the distinction here is not actually between external and internal object, but between intentional object and intentional correlate:

This intentional correlate, that begins and ends with the act, is the psychically modified counterpart of the intentional object, which is independent from thought.

I think there are a lot of problems with this analysis, since there are too many texts in which Brentano seems to directly and literally contradict it. Since the famous intentionality quote from the Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint is less than helpful to clarify these issues, in my article I try to clarify Brentano’s position based on lectures manuscripts and letters that I found at the Houghton Library at Harvard and in Graz. To address these problems, I sketch a new approach to Brentano’s concept of intentionality that rejects the ontological interpretation while accommodating Antonelli’s and Sauers’s distinctions. I suggest that Brentano’s position could perhaps best be understood as “transcendentalist” (for lack of a better term) in the deflationary sense that all accounts of intentionality and of the phenomenality of the objects of our mental acts would be transcendentalist: we have no access to objects except as immanent objects that can but have the pretension of reaching something outside of our acts. There are not two objects, one immanent and one transcendent, but merely one object regarded from different perspectives: internal and external perception.

I look outside and see a red car. In my external perception I have a sensation of red. In my internal perception I have both the act of sensation as well as its correlate. Hence, we have on the one hand “the color red” (as the object of external perception) and on the other “the color red as object of external perception” (in internal perception). Now recall furthermore Brentano’s lectures on descriptive psychology: “inner experience does not show colors, tones, etc. as existing in reality, but rather sensations of colors etc. and hence it shows them as immanent objects of our sensations: as phenomena.” Hence, inner perception does show us the objects of sensation, from its own peculiar perspective, but of course at the very same time, indeed in the very same act, they are also the objects of the act of external perception. So the same red color appears simultaneously as object of external perception (with its Falschnehmung as an external reality) and as object of internal perception (with its Wahrnehmung as an internal reality). (on color phenomena as signs for their causes, also see my “Brentano and the Theory of Signs“)

One central implication of the interpretation I am advocating would be that, what names refer to (“denominate”) are not immanent objects as such, i.e. as immanent, merely presented objects (i.e. objects of internal perception), but the immanent objects as transcendent objects, as if they existed transcendent’ly (i.e. intentional objects). What is naively accepted by external perception, is revealed in its ambiguous nature by internal perception. This is exactly the inherently transcendental function of intentionality: that its reach exceeds its grasp. I conclude that all our transcendent’ly directed acts have this structure of improper intentions of ambiguous objects.


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