25 August 2009

we intend

... the capacity to impose functions on natural phenomena [is] remarkable, but equally remarkable is the fact that functions may be imposed quite unconsciously, and the functions once imposed are often—so to speak—invisble. So, for example, money may simply have evolved without anyone ever thinking, "We are now imposing a new function to these objects"; and once money has evolved, people may use money to buy and sell without thinking about the logical structure of imposed function. However, for all cases of agentive function, someone must be capable of understanding what the thing is for, or the function could never be assigned. At least some of the participants in the system of exchange must understand, consciously or unconsciously, that money is to buy things with, screwdrivers are for driving screws, and so forth. If we assign a function that is totally apart from human intentions, it would have to fall in the category of nonagentive functions. Thus suppose someone says that the intended agentive function of money is to serve as a medium of exchange and a store of value, but money also serves the hidden, secret, unintended function of maintaining the system of power relationships in society. The first claim is about the intentionality of agentive function. The second claim is about nonagentive function. To see this, simply ask yourself what facts in the world would make each claim true. The first claim is made true by the intentionality with which agents use objects as money. They use it for the purpose of buying, selling, and storing value. The second claim, like the claim that the heart functions to pump blood, would be true if and only if there is a set of unintended causal relations and these serve some teleology, even if it is not a teleology shared by the speaker.

... What is the relation between singular and collective intentionality, between, for example, the facts described by "I intend" and "We intend"? Most efforts I have seen to answer this question try to reduce "We intentionality" to "I intentionality" plus something else, usually mutual beliefs. The idea is that I intend to do it in the belief that you also intend to do it; and you intend to do it in the belief that you also intend to do it; and you intend to do it in the belief that I also intend to do it. And each believes that the other has these beliefs, and has these beliefs about these beliefs . . . etc., in a potentially infinite hierarchy of beliefs. "I believe that you believe that I believe that you believe that I believe. . . .," and so on. In my view all these efforts to reduce collective intentionality to individual intentionality fail. Collective intentionality is a biologically primitive phenomenon that cannot be reduced to or eliminated in favor of something else. Every attempt at reducing "We intentionality" to "I intentionality" that I have seen is subject to counterexamples.
  There is a deep reason why collective intentionality cannot be reduced to individual intentionality. The problem with believing that you believe that I believe, etc., and you believing that I believe that you believe, etc., is that it does not add up to a sense of collectivity. No set of "I Consciousnesses," even supplemented with beliefs, adds up to a "We Consciousness." The crucial element in collective intentionality is a sense of doing (wanting, believing, etc.) something together, and the individual intentionality that each person has is derived from the collective intentionality that they share. Thus, to go back to the earlier example of the football game, I do indeed have a singular intention to block the defensive end, but I have that intention only as part of our collective intention to execute a pass play.
  We can see these differences quite starkly if we contrast the case where there is genuine cooperative behavior with the case where, so to speak, by accident two people happen to find that their behavior is synchronized. There is a big difference between two violinists playing in an orchestra, on the one hand, and on the other hand, discovering, while I am practicing my part, that someone in the next room is practicing her part, and thus discovering that, by chance, we are playing the same piece in a synchronized fashion.
  Why are so many philosophers convinced that collective intentionality must be reducible to individual intentionality? Why are they unwilling to recognize collective intentionality as a primitive phenomenon? I believe the reason is that they accept an argument that looks appealing but is fallacious. The argument is that because all intentionality exists in the heads of individual human beings, the form of that intentionality can make reference only to the individuals in whose heads it exists. So it has seemed that anybody who recognizes collective intentionality as a primitive form of mental life must be committed to the idea that there exists some Hegelian world spirit, a collective consciousness, or something equally implausible. The requirements of methodological individualism seem to force us to reduce collective intentionality to individual intentionality. It has seemed, in short, that we have to choose between reductionism, on the one hand, or a super mind floating over the individual minds, on the other. I want to claim, on the contrary, that the argument contains a fallacy and that the dilemma is a false one. It is indeed the case that all my mental life is inside my brain, and all your mental life is inside your brain, and so on for everybody else. But it does not follow from that that all my mental life must be expressed in the form of a singular noun phrase referring to me. The form that my collective intentionality can take is simply "we intend," "we are doing so-and-so," and the like. In such cases, I intend only as part of our intending. The intentionality that exists in each individual has the form "we intend."

John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (1995: 21-26)