Intentionality vs. Non-Intentionality

There are a lot of terms bandied about regarding the metaphysical foundations of reality. Some are physicalism, materialism, panpsychism, idealism, theism, deism, pantheism, panentheism, and so on. Of course, the devil is in the details on what these really mean.  Here I’d like to distill this down to a couple of terms that I think indicate an essence of these terms. Those terms are intentionalism and non-intentionalism.  At the bottom line, the question is, is there intention or non-intention fundamental to how reality is constituted?

Intentionality has certain features.  First, there is a goal or purpose in mind.  Intention isn’t just happenstance. It is about something. If there is a goal then there must also be some value system at work. If there is a goal in mind and values at work then that means there must be options. Without live options, intentionality is meaningless. If there are live options, that means that there must be freedom to choose from them.  All this entails complexity. Intentionality requires complex processes. Goals must be determined based on values. Choices and actions must be evaluated according to their effects, and decisions must be made based on all that. We all know this intuitively from our own sense of self. Without intentionality the only thing left is fatalism — things just happen for no intentional reason. Non-intentionality has none of the features of intentionality.  Stuff just happens.

So, what has all this to do with fundamental reality? A lot. That’s because of causation.  We know things happen within a causal chain.  One thing causes another. The chain may be short, say in a rock falling to the ground or it may be highly complex like in the neural networks of the brain. But causes beget effects which, in turn, beget other causes.  If fundamental reality is non-intentional then every step in the causal chain is also non-intentional. Unless magic is invoked, there is no place for intentionality to come in. So, no freedom. No value. No meaning.

Now, if someone acknowledges the fatalism in the non-intentional approach, fine. At least they are being honest. This rarely happens. Why? Because it’s hard to swallow that worldview. So, what happens? A lot depends on influencers. These are public intellectuals who know the details of arguments and promote their worldview to others. Now, since the fatalistic worldview is abhorrent to many in the public, what are they to do? In short, equivocate. Definition of equivocation: “the use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth”. The general public might not know the nuances of the argument so they are ripe for being mislead. All that is required is to throw in a few equivocated intentional terms in the non-intentional presentation and the public will be none the wiser. Examples are free-will in compatibilism or teleology when teleonomy (no real purpose) is what is meant. Terms like meaning and purpose are often used when they are vacuous in an autonomic universe.

A reality grounded in fundamental intentionality can offer so many things we existentially feel we have and would like. Meaning, purpose, free will, moral objectivity, etc. are all in the offing. So, when evaluating a particular metaphysical system perhaps it can be helpful to ascertain if what is being promoted is fundamentally intentional or non-intentional.

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