[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Polls are closed: Manfred Holodynsk's article is choice

Hi Helen,

Yes, of course. Rather than try to define them, at least at first, let me try to illustrate them:

Let's say you see me fumbling with the window handle. There are the following ways of understanding my action:

1. I'm opening the window - intention in action

2. I'm planning to get some fresh air - prior intention

3. I believe that it is colder outside than in, and I desire that this colder air enter the room - mental states of belief and desire

You can see that these are not mutually exclusive; indeed each seems to be in some sense a deeper understanding than the previous one. This already seems to suggest that in ontogenesis a child is likely to move from 1 to 2 to 3. But it's not the case that all three are always necessary, because there are actions that have an intention in action and no prior intention, and others that have a prior intention but no beliefs and desires. 

An example of the first: I can get up and pace around the room without forming any prior intention to do so. An example of the second: I can plan to go to work by getting on the bus (prior intention and intention in action), but since I do this every day it seems odd to attribute to me in addition a belief that the bus will take me to my workplace, or a desire to get there. First, I may have no such conscious belief or desire and yet still get successfully to my office. Second, if one says that the mental states are there but tacit, where does this stop? I must also believe that buses carry people, and they do not float, and they do not dissolve.... 

So it is important to distinguish these three ways of understanding an action, and recognize when each is called for. A child who can only grasp 1 and 2 may still be able to function successful in a range of situations. 

In addition, these are not the only three ways that an action can be understood. In addition:

4. I may have a commitment to a social role - perhaps I am a technician whose job it is to ensure that the room does not overheat.

5. I may have a commitment to an identity - I may consider it more healthy or more ethical to work in a cold office (apparently Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg holds such a view)

Now we're into levels that I don't think Tomasello or Gergely have explored. Obviously infants are not going to understand actions in these terms, but I think it's very interesting to explore at what age and stage children become capable of such understanding.


On Mar 19, 2013, at 7:33 PM, Helen Harper <helen.harper@bigpond.com> wrote:

> Hello Martin,
> can you please elaborate a little on what you understand as the distinction between 'prior intentions and mental states of belief and desire'. or if that's too much of an ask in a paragraph or two, point me towards something I should read?
> Helen
> On 20/03/2013, at 9:55 AM, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:
>> Larry,
>> I agree with you that we have here converging lines of theory/research. And I like your use of the term gesture, because presumably while for the adult an infant's smile is understood as a 'sign' of pleasure, or of recognition, or of appreciation, the infant has no intention to sign. For the infant (in-itself) the smile is a gesture, while for the adult, within a community of signers and symbolizers, (for-others) the smile is a sign.
>> The problem I have with Gergely's work is that he seems to assume that any kind of intelligible act has to be backed by an intentional state, by beliefs and desires. He doesn't see the distinction that John Searle has drawn between intention in action and prior intention. Tomasello sees that distinction, but in my view he then fails to make the distinction between prior intentions and mental states of belief and desire. And both of them fail to see that mental state discourse is not culturally universal; there are other conceptual frameworks within which people understand intentional action.
>> That's a lot packed into one paragraph; I bring it up because at times I think that  Manfred Holodynski is also assuming that when the infant acts intelligently in interaction with adults, this means he (the infant) is forming intentions that cause those actions, and that these intentions are mental states. In my view this confuses the picture and prevents us from seeing the real developments.
>> Martin

xmca mailing list