Anscombe on Intentionality of Sensation: Summary

The term `intentional object’ is introduced to refer to objects of thought which may or may not exist beyond thought in the actual world. There is a third type of reference to intentional objects beyond reference to the actually existent and the actually non-existent. This third type is to refer to an actual object with the reference to a property that the object does not have. For example, in `X worshipped the moon’, X does indeed worship something that exists, because the moon exists. However, X does not have the property – of divinity – that X venerates.

There is a distinction between two understandings of the direct object of a sentence. In `A gave B a book’, the direct object could be the term `a book’ – in modern usage – meaning a linguistic item. It could also mean – in older usage – the actual book itself. Anscombe wishes to retain the older usage for the purpose of analysis. One thing is clear: an actual book is not a piece of language. The term `intentional object’ can refer to either the actual book or a piece of language but this fact of co-reference does not suffice to make the actual book identical to a piece of language. Anscombe argues that we must avoid the ambiguity by denying that the intentional object is the book and denying that it is a piece of language; an intentional object is a description under which.

The distinction between descriptions recalls Austin’s distinction between by mistake and by accident
when one has shot a donkey. If I intend to shoot my donkey but realise too late that the donkey I
aimed at was in fact your donkey, I have shot your donkey by mistake. If I intend to shoot my donkey but yours gets in the way at the last moment, I have shot your donkey by accident. The difference is the description under which I shot your donkey. The parallel with shooting is apt since Anscombe herself recalls the archery-related etymology of intention.

In the second part of the paper, Anscombe aims to apply this apparatus to sensation. The process she uses is to supply a number of examples which parallel the three reference types given above. An object of sensation, like an intentional object, may exist, may not exist, or be referred to under a description which it may or may not satisfy, if it does exist. (One assumes here pace Meinong that non-existent objects have no properties.)

Q: can parallels in usage establish the degree of similarity Anscombe requires? After all, she was earlier denying that parallels in usage could establish the identity of the book and the piece of language.


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