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  • The Phenomenological Basis of Intentionality by Angela Mendelovici
  • Gina Zavota
MENDELOVICI, Angela. The Phenomenological Basis of Intentionality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. xviii + 275 pp.

Angela Mendelovici's The Phenomenal Basis of Intentionality presents a novel version of the phenomenal intentionality theory (PIT). In this work, Mendelovici endeavors to explain intentionality—the feature of certain mental states [End Page 619] that we tend to think of as what they are "about" or "of"—in terms of phenomenal consciousness. According to PIT, all originally intentional states (those that do not derive from other intentional states or instances of intentionality) necessarily arise from phenomenal states. Mendelovici's version of PIT, which she calls "strong identity PIT," further claims that every intentional state is identical to some phenomenal state and likewise for intentional properties and contents. She puts strong identity PIT forward as a challenge to two widely accepted theories of intentionality: the tracking theory and the functional role theory. While there are many versions of both views, in general terms, the tracking theory holds that all instances of original intentionality arise from tracking, which is defined as correspondence with objects or other items in the environment. The functional role theory, by contrast, maintains that originally intentional states arise from the functional roles of mental representations.

Mendelovici argues that both tracking and functional role theories fail to accurately predict which contents are represented in certain types of mental representations. For example, perceptual color representations track the surface reflectance profiles of objects in the environment, but the contents represented by perceptual color representations—the blueish or greenish superficial character that leads us to describe a certain object as "blue" or "green"—is nothing like a surface reflectance profile. Internal functional roles, on the other hand, cannot even give rise to intentional states with determinate content unless they are supplemented with aspects of the tracking theory that cause it to inherit the tracking theory's problems. As serious as she considers this issue to be, Mendelovici maintains that the real problem with both tracking and functional role theories is that neither tracking relations nor internal functional roles are sufficient to give rise to intentionality. Phenomenal consciousness, on the other hand, is the right kind of thing to give rise to intentionality, and it does so, according to strong identity PIT, by simply being identical to it.

Describing original intentionality as a type of phenomenal consciousness allows Mendelovici to argue that strong identity PIT correctly predicts the superficial character of what is represented by mental representations. In the case of perceptual color representations, for example, the blueish or greenish superficial character of the content of an instance of intentionality is identical to its phenomenal character. More importantly, she claims, strong identity PIT offers an account of the deep character of intentionality by equating it with phenomenal consciousness. This claim raises the question of whether strong identity PIT can be said to be a theory of intentionality in terms of consciousness instead of the reverse. Mendelovici answers this question by noting that the qualities she wishes to ascribe to both intentionality and phenomenal consciousness—being nonrelational and resistant to naturalization, for example—are those that we typically associate with phenomenal consciousness, not intentionality. The upshot is a radically internalistic theory of intentionality, one in which it is much scarcer than introspective observation might lead us to believe. [End Page 620]

The above arguments take up the first three of five main sections of The Phenomenal Basis of Intentionality. In the fourth section, Mendelovici considers two of the most challenging cases for PIT: thoughts and nonconscious states. In the former case, she argues that, while the contents of our thoughts sometimes do not seem to match their phenomenal character, these contents are not themselves intentionally represented but are rather derived from the "immediate contents" of thought by virtue of our tendency to ascribe certain contents to our mental states. She extends this argument in the case of nonconsciousness states, maintaining that they neither originally nor derivatively represent contents, and are thus not intentional states at all. The final main section of the book consists of a chapter on the nature of intentionality itself, in which...