Brentano, Franz Clemens (1838–1917)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC009-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved April 15, 2021, from

3. Intentionality: cons

Intentionality was supposed to secure a subject-matter for empirical psychology and it fuels a research programme that makes us look at the mind in a new way. However, it gives rise to puzzles and paradoxes. Let’s go back to Brentano’s intentionality quote. Brentano tell us that every mental act has an object ‘within’ itself, but that this object may not exist in reality. This seems highly plausible: you may seek the fountain of youth, but there is no such thing.

How can one make sense of description that every mental act has an object that may or may not exist? The literature on this and related questions is so vast that I can only mention the main answers here. If the object of a mental act need not be ‘a reality’, maybe the object depends for its existence on the act?13 But then how are the internal and external object related? Maybe mental acts are not relations to such objects, they are only similar to such relations and possess ‘quasi-relationality’?14 If we pursue this thought further and try to describe the similarity between ‘object-less’ and acts that ‘hit’ a real object, one will be tempted to see ‘directedness’ to be a non-relational property of mental acts. Or every act really has an object, but some of these objects do not exist.15 This requires an ontology that encompasses non-existent objects and changes in logic. Or maybe talk of ‘object’ is polysemous, once as for what we think – the content of the act – and once for that thing which we think about – the object of the act.16 Or talk of ‘immanent objects’ is just so riddled with problems that we should replace it with the better-behaved notion of an intentional sentence.17

These questions are still controversially discussed. However, even if we find no ‘happy solution’ to these problems, intentionality can still be a valuable notion. For some of the important concepts – truth is another example – have a glitch: they lead to paradoxes (think of the liar paradox for truth). Yet, these concepts exist and we employ them. Similarly, we can employ the concept of intentionality to distinguish the mental from the physical etc.

Citing this article:
Textor, Mark. Intentionality: cons. Brentano, Franz Clemens (1838–1917), 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC009-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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