chapter  5
17 Pages

Intentionality or Phenomenology? Descartes and the Objects of Thought


Descartes, according to a widespread conception, is seen as having set a distinctive stamp on the mind-body problem. By taking the mind to be something privately accessed by each individual, he made its relationship to the public world of science a matter for prolonged philosophical puzzlement. But for many contemporary philosophers of mind, the long tangle of problems stemming from the supposed ‘privacy’ of the mental is at last reaching its end, and the focus of debate has shifted back to a quite different aspect of the mind, discussed by philosophers long before Descartes,1 and later made famous by Brentano,2 namely its intentionality. Intentionality, that property of mental states in virtue of which they are directed at, about, or of, certain objects,3 is not normally thought of as a topic on which Descartes had much to say. However the ‘aboutness’ or representative nature of mental states turns out to play a crucial role in his philosophy. I shall argue that it is central to his view of the mind, so central as to elbow to the edge the ‘private’ or subjective aspect that has long been taken to be the distinctive feature of the ‘Cartesian’ approach to the mental.