Post Author: Bill Pratt
One of the most important differences between the mental and physical is the property of intentionality. Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains just what intentionality is and why physicalism does not account for it.
Intentionality is the mind’s ofness or aboutness. Mental states point beyond themselves to other things. Every mental state I have is of or about something – a hope that Smith will come, a sensation of the apple, a thought that the painting is beautiful. Mental states can even be about things that do not exist – a fear of a goblin or a love for Zeus.
Does physicalism account for intentionality?
Intentionality is not a property or relation of anything physical. Physical objects can stand in various physical relations with other physical objects. One physical thing can be to the left of, larger than, harder than, the same shape as, or the thing causing the motion of another physical object. But one physical object is not of or about another one.
Moreland gives a concrete example to draw out the difference:
When I am near a podium, I can relate to it in many ways: I can be two feet from it, taller than it, and my body can bump into it. These are all examples of physical relations I sustain to the podium.
But in addition to these, I can be a conscious subject that has the podium as an object of various states of consciousness I direct toward it. I can have a thought about it, a desire for it (perhaps I want one like it), I can experience a sensation of it, and so forth. These are all mental states, and they have intentionality (ofness, aboutness) in common.
Hence, mental states possess intentionality, while physical states do not. Mental states are not physical states.