The Nature of Intentionality

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Course Description: 

This course will introduce some of the central themes of contemporary philosophy of mind through an investigation of the phenomenon of intentionality -- the mind's 'direction upon its objects'. Intentionality is one of the two central concepts philosophers in the 20th century have used to understand the mind (the other is consciousness). Intentionality is sometimes described as mental representation, sometimes as the 'aboutness' of mental states or events or processes (i.e. the fact that they are 'about' things). We will examine the historical origins of the concept of intentionality in philosophy, and the relationships between intentionality and other concepts: consciousness, representation, subjectivity and mentality itself. On the way we will look at the problem of non-existence, the question of externalism about mental content, the phenomenon of singular thought, the relationship between intentionality and phenomenology, and the possibility of an explanation of intentionality in physical terms. One aim of the course is to connect the classic discussions in the 20th century with more recent discussions in the literature. To this end, the weekly readings will be a combination of late twentieth century classics and contemporary writings.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students who have attended all classes and have done all the readings will have a wide and deep understanding of these central themes in the philosophy of mind, and some of the relevant history.



There will be a mid-term exercise in late February, details of which will announced at the beginning of the course. In the final week of the term there will be an in-class exam, requiring short answers to specific questions, which will presuppose knowledge of the readings. There is no term paper. Each of these tasks constitutes 50% of the final grade.


There are no formal pre-requisites, but students will be expected to know certain basic concepts of metaphysics, the outlines of the mind-body problem, and elementary logic (propositional logic, first order predicate logic). These presuppositions will be explained in the first class, to give students a chance to drop the course.