The Development of Intentionality and the Role of Consciousness

Michael Lewis
1990 Psychological Inquiry  
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more » ... ation of a very young child's learning of an instrumental response and the child's frustration in being unable to control what was once a controllable behavior, I seek to explore the origins of intentionality. Three models are considered. In the mechanistic model, the construct of intentionality is considered irrelevant because action is viewed as caused by the environment or internal biological dispositions. In a second world view, intentionality exists but not always and not for all social creatures; it is an emergent property of organisms. The third view, presented here, argues for intention as a property of all goal-directed systems. Within this view I seek to describe the various levels of intentionality and to develop a system that will enable us to explain intention in such divergent actions as a plant's movement toward the sun, a newborn child's movement toward a brightly colored object, and an adult's conscious goal-directed behavior. Two World Views Two views of human nature predominate in our theories of development. In the first, the human is acted on by surrounding forces, and in the second, the human acts on these forces (Reese & Overton, 1970). The reactive view generates two major theoretical paradigms, biological and social control. The active view, on the other hand, has generated the constructivist or developmental-cognitive theoretical paradigm. The place of intention within these two world views differs greatly. Let us consider these views in their extreme forms to show how their respective theories might treat the issue of intention. In both the biological-motivational or social-control paradigms, the causes of behavior or action are forces which act on the organism causing it to behave. These may be internal biological features of the species, including species-specific causes of behavior, or the external social control of conspecifics-these, too, may be species specific. In all cases within this world view, the organism is acted on and the causes of its action (including its development) are external to it. Thus, for example, the major determinant of sex-role behavior is thought to be biological, that is, determined by sex, in this case, by the effects of hormones (Money & Ehrhardt, 1972) or lateralization (Buffery & Gray, 1972). Alternatively, sex-role behavior can be determined externally by the shaping effect of the social environment, either the differential rewards of conspecifics (Fagot, 1973) or the differential construction of the social world. Examples of the former are already well-known (e.g., parental praising or punishing of specific sex-role-appropriate actions, such as playing with particular toys; see Goldberg & Lewis, 1969; Rheingold & Cook, 1975). Examples of construction of the social world include giving the child a male or female name. These do not imply reinforcement control but structural control. In such external control paradigms we need not infer will, intention, or plan. In contrast to this passive view is the constructivist paradigm based on the world view that the organism acts on its environment and participates in it. The organism has desires and plans. These desires and goals are constructed, as are most of the actions enabling the organism to behave adaptively. This view does not necessitate discarding either biological imperatives or social control as potential causes of behavior, because humans are both biological and social creatures and both, to some degree and in some combination, must affect behavior. I prefer to think of these biological and social forces as nothing more than the raw materials for the construction of cognitive structures including goals and desires, plans, and action patterns themselves (see Fodor, 1981b, for a similar view). Taking the example of sex-role behavior, I argue that hormones and social control become the material for cognitive structures. Such structures might take the form "I am male or female," "Males or females behave this way or that way," "To receive the praise of others (a desired goal) I should act either this way or that." Such cognitions and their accompanying goals and desires, along with cognitions concerning information about the world, enable the child to intend, that is, to will to act in a particular fashion. These two world views are present in all psychological inquiry. The mechanistic model receives support in the case of the biological study of action (e.g., T-cells tracing foreign proteins that have entered the body). Constructivist views are supported by theories of the mind (Neisser, 1967). It should not go unnoticed that with the growth of cognitive science, the idea of constructing mental representations (that do not correspond in any one-to-one fashion with the "real" world) and with them, plans and intentions, has become more acceptable to psychology proper (see Gardner's, 1985, review). The Problem of Intention Central to this article, however, is the problem of the development of intention. In so stating the problem, I beg the question of whether there is such a thing as intention. Intuitively, most of us are comfortable in believing that intention exists. There is no difficulty for any of us in using terms such as "I intend to go to the market tomorrow," or in understanding that an intentional act of violence is a more serious transgression than an unintentional one. Nor do we have difficulty in explaining our action as intentional: "I went to the refrigerator because I intended to get the butter." Even so, accepting the notion of intentionality raises difficulties. Some forms of action are more difficult to explain as intentional; unaware action, for example, "I did not realize I was angry and did not intend to push you away." Freud suggested that action we are unaware of is unconsciously intentional. Other actions appear so rote and mechanical we hardly believe that they were planned or were intentional, for example, walking actions, or even talking or listening. These, too, are intentional if we consider that intention need not be always pure intention, but can be "intentions in action" (Searle, 1984, p. 65). Nevertheless, I claim that adult humans are intentional, or if not so, then at least we believe that we and others are intentional (Dennett, 1987) . Make no mistake: The claim that intentionality exists is made without any basis of proof, only that we have such an idea; there might be cultures and times that would deny such a concept. The same, however, might be said for any mental structure or operation. Here I am willing to consider Rorty's (1989) analysis of truth. If we follow his analysis correctly, we cannot make the claim that intentionality exists out there, only our understanding of it exists and is "real." There is no Truth out there to which some language (read here world view or model) is better than another. Truth cannot be out there-cannot exist independently of the human mind-because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not, only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its ownunaided by the describing activities of human beings-cannot. (Rorty, 1989, p. 5) Adopting this conceptualization permits us to choose between descriptions of reality and allows us to test our choice for truthfulness vis-a-vis another description. In this case, our choice is between a model that does not require intention and one that does. Because I wish to focus on the topic of ontogenetic change in intentional behavior, I choose the model asserting that it exists. Our problem then becomes how to study the development of this concept. I choose to focus on the topic of development, for it seems to capture the problems inherent in any discussion of intention-for example, the question of intention in animals (Griffin, 1984), in machines (Newell, 1982) , and in different cultures (D'Andrade, 1981). The ontogenesis of humans allows us to consider the issue of intention from a broad perspective in the same organism at different points in its life. Because we have some idea of the similarities and differences among infants,
doi:10.1207/s15327965pli0103_13 fatcat:66pu2njavfgxhf3m4jqppw76bi