Crane's Intentionality of the Mental in Relation to Perception and Thought

In Tim Crane’s book, Elements of Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, we are given a contemporary look at the Analytic Tradition, and their use of the ideas of Intentionality to come to the truth about perception and thought.  Crane attempts to explain to the reader how perception and thought are related, as well as the role of intentionality in relation to perception and thought.

For the most part, when we speak of the terms ‘perception’ and ‘thought’ we can rely almost solely upon a particular individual.  For example, imagine that we have one individual, whom we will call Gavin, looking at some object, which, for simplicity, we will say is a particular can of Dr Pepper sitting in front of him.  One would say that Gavin has a perception of a Dr Pepper can.  One would also say that he has, or had, a thought of a Dr Pepper can, as long as it is true that he perceived it at some time.  In this way, one might argue that perception and thought can only truly be described in relation to some individual.  However, we must also have an object of perception in the first place in order to begin the ‘chain’ of events.  Perception of some thing x is that which will lead us to some thought about x.

This ‘chain’ of events brings us into intentionality.  Intentionality involves the relationship between a subject and an object. In particular, Crane gives us a definition when he tells us that an intentional theory “holds that the mind is directed on real objects in acts of perception” [1:138].

To continue with our example above, the subject would be a particular individual, in this case an individual named Gavin.  The object would be the Dr Pepper can.  The relationship between Gavin and the Dr Pepper can is the next thing to examine.  When Gavin has a perception of the can, when he makes note of it or directs his mind to it, he has some thought about it.  For example, Gavin may say ‘That Dr Pepper can sure looks red’.  If Gavin were to have this thought he would be intending the can as a particular way, namely, as looking red.  He would also be giving us the intentional mode, or the relationship between the can and himself.  In the above statement, Gavin is thinking that the can is a particular way in such a way that he probably believes that it is that way.  The intentional mode would then be ‘belief’; therefore the intentional mode is the attitude that the subject has towards the object.

So, ‘Gavin believes that the Dr Pepper can is red’, would adequately tell us how Gavin is intending the can, as well as show the relationship between a subject an object, giving us a concrete example of perception and thought in an individual.  Gavin first has a perception of something and then goes on to have a thought – which must always be intentional, in my understanding – about his perception.  However, Crane doesn’t appear to want to believe that this is always the case.

But perceptions need not all be propositional attitudes: there is such a thing as noticing an object, without necessarily noticing that it is a certain way. [1:139]

However, this appears to be nonsense, as perceiving an object appears to bring about a thought of the object, even if it is as simple as the object is there, which could easily be stated as ‘I believe that there is an object there’, or ‘I believe that that object exists because I perceive it to be there’.  However, as one can see by reading Crane’s book, he often makes contradictions, and we should just accept this as being one of those times in which he is accidentally going against what he said earlier.

Have I adequately explained the role of intentionality in perception and thought?  Perceptions lead to thoughts and perception and thoughts rely upon subjects and objects.  Gavin perceives the soda can and has a thought in which he intends the soda can a particular way, based upon his perception.  The subject has a perception of an object, and then the subject goes on to have a thought about the object, making some claim about the object.  This is what intentionality is; making a claim about an object as being a particular way, yet, in addition, knowing that they could be wrong.


1: T Crane, Elements of the Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).


Created: March 30th 2003
Modified: May 7th 2003; October 30th 2003
Notes: See also my papers titled: The Problems of Perception and Thought as Discussed by Michael Corrado; The Analytic and Phenomenological Traditions in Relation to Intentionality.