The Nature of Intention

The Nature of Intention
jeeprs
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 1:39 PM:
Subject: The Nature of Intention
I would like to get some ideas about a nagging question that often comes up in debates about evolutionary science. This is the frequently-asserted view that the Universe is 'devoid of intention'. The idea is that the Universe, not having been created or overseen by divine intelligence, develops fortuitously. There is nothing that can be called 'an intentional agent' in the Universe, in any abstract sense.

The question this always raises for me is a relatively simple one: does this mean that humans are the only beings that qualify as 'intentional agents'?

It seems to me that an essential part of the definition of intention is foresight, planning for a particular outcome, or acting in order to achieve a purpose.

Given that this is so, are only conscious agents capable of acting intentionally, and so is there a relationship between intention and the capacity for abstract thought?




To Mega Therion
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 1:47 PM:

For one thing an intention without intent seems rather odd. But it is not true that humans are the only animals that posses elements of abstract thought, and most would be quite comfortable with attributing intention to more complex animals. But the question I want to ask is why you find any of this problematic or relevant to the "debates" about evolutionary science.
BitterCrank
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 2:35 PM:

Jeeprs, are you content with the universe being without intention, existing by chance and so on, or are you trying to smuggle intent back in? Also, the word fortuitous has two meanings. Below is a note from a dictionary:

The traditional, etymological meaning of fortuitous is ‘happening by chance’: a: fortuitous meeting is a chance meeting, which might turn out to be either a good thing or a bad thing. In modern uses, however, fortuitous tends more often to be used to refer to fortunate outcomes, and the word has become more or less a synonym for ‘lucky’ or ‘fortunate.’ This use is frowned upon as being not etymologically correct and is best avoided except in informal contexts.

Are you by any chance suggesting that the universe, as such, is a lucky chance? Perchance? A lucky universe might seem to be tilted in favor of being better rather than worse, and then, who tilted it for whose benefit?

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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 2:48 PM:

The question this always raises for me is a relatively simple one: does this mean that humans are the only beings that qualify as 'intentional agents'?


The definition you have given for intention would qualify some humans and other complex animals.

It is especially interesting to me that a non-intentional universe has given itself consciousness and intention through complex interaction with itself.

jeeprs
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 2:55 PM:

I meant 'fortuitous' in exactly the sense of 'unplanned, unintended, happened because of chance'. This is practically axiomatic for naturalism, isn't it? The religious view being 'it is all a Master Plan', then the naturalist view, by way of opposition to that, presents the opposite viewpoint.

But what interests me is where intent arises from. It is a very slippery question, much bigger than it seems. If only intelligent agents are capable of forming an intention, then the Universe seems a very lonely place. It is radically different from us, after all. You know all those neat graphics which show that in the evolutionary timescale, H Sapiens arrived at a minute to midnight? Well, that is the thin layer within which intentions reside, if intention is indeed only understandable in terms of human agency. But I don't think it makes sense. But I am interested to hear others views on it. Maybe I'm missing something.
ughaibu
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 3:10 PM:

jeeprs wrote:
Maybe I'm missing something.
You seem to have missed your responders stating that intentions are not exclusive to humans.
To Mega Therion
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 3:11 PM:

jeeprs wrote:
But I don't think it makes sense.


For one thing you're still ignoring nonhuman animals. But even so, the span in which life of any sort existed is minuscule compared to the timescale of cosmological processes. The crux of the matter is why you consider this nonsensical. Is it because it is personally unsatisfactory? But then at most you can hope to convince people of like temperament, and probably not even them, that the factual situation lacks sense.
Schoepenhauer Reincarnated
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 3:14 PM:

Intention is something which developed in man's need to survive. Intention is the product of conscious being and we can apply consciousness in a broader sense to some animals as Mega mentioned. Intention is the aggregate of possibility which "compounds" itself through the determinations of nature itself. "Intention" neither needs a reality or an unreality to posit it because its a mere neutrality which negates reality and non reality in a subsuming act. It is from this "intention" that our mind collects some "semblance" of meaning.


This "semblance" depends on the natural order within the context of the empirical world. If there is no physical world there is nothing from which our senses can give any direction or intention to things via the activity of the intellect. "Intention" is a reciprocal act posited between being and non being, the word and the concepts behind those words, concepts and our intuition of those concepts. Its not something we can merely grasp and therefore it appears as a void to us so to fill this void our mind subconsciously tries to fill it with "appearances."


Now perhaps that last part was a bit abstract but by appearances I mean the hidden intentionality disclosed within a certain object. Everything that I can sense or relate in some way to my memory takes on at the bare minimum a sense of meaning because its transportable to my brain as "meaning" something. That said "meaning" is something which is derived through acquiring language and being able to construct concepts through our utility of language in a quasi-meaningful way, that is to say with a concrete or literal intention attached to them.
On Nov 14, 2011 - 3:24 PM, jeeprs responded: Interesting combination: Darwinian rationalism and postmodernism! Thanks.
Schoepenhauer Reincarnated
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 3:22 PM:

To Mega Therion wrote:


For one thing you're still ignoring nonhuman animals. But even so, the span in which life of any sort existed is minuscule compared to the timescale of cosmological processes. The crux of the matter is why you consider this nonsensical. Is it because it is personally unsatisfactory? But then at most you can hope to convince people of like temperament, and probably not even them, that the factual situation lacks sense.


I think that in essence the intention of the world in its totality is what humans make of it. This is not to negate the "intentionality" of other things in the world but they all seem so trivial and frivolous if they do not have some direct impact on human affairs. If it does not involve the I or to clarify it ontologically, the "I" then there is little meaning which it has to us unless it benefits us in some form of remedial form whether it be in an intellectual or sensual sense. I think a human centric understanding of the universe is the only way which we can find any "meaning" or "intention" in the world outside of our senses even. Mankind is his own "limit" as to what possesses "intent" or or "meaning" within the world.
jeeprs
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Posted Nov 14, 2011 - 3:23 PM:

Ughaibu wrote:
You seem to have missed your responders stating that intentions are not exclusive to humans.


So 'intentions' are not, then, only attributable to conscious agents? If animals can act intentionally, where do you draw the line? To Mega mentioned 'apes' elsewhere - but that seems (ironically) anthropocentric, in that apes are 'like us'. So, OK, other animals also. Which ones? What if all creatures act intentionally? But this seems to mean that intention does not require 'conscious agency'.
On Nov 14, 2011 - 3:27 PM, jeeprs responded: even bacteria!
On Nov 14, 2011 - 3:46 PM, photographer responded: Well, the concept does: we only understand intention by analogy to human intention.
On Nov 14, 2011 - 4:12 PM, 180 Proof responded:

We do not know enough about how brains work yet in order to "draw the line" scientifically. My guess, however, is organisms capable of grammar-use are 'intentional' and the rest are not. Why? Because 'grammar' is a kluge of heuristics for tracking & making patterns-paths (e.g. 'to intend', at minimum, is make (i.e. predict) a path from A to B). Nothing spooky here.

Edited by 180 Proof on Nov 14, 2011 - 4:25 PM
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