…what is intentionality?

What is intentionality in terms of Husserl’s phenomenology? To understand intentionality is to also understand phenomenology at its most fundamental level. Generally, intentionality is the way in which phenomena appear to consciousness. Yet, this is not clear enough because we might not know what it means for phenomena to appear to consciousness. One way to consider intentionality is to consider consciousness as a means of apprehending the world as it is given to consciousness. The word given and the word appear are meant to be combined and expanded into the realization that this is beyond a Cartesian/rationalist way of knowing the world. Now to examine how it can be the case that Cartesian rationalism is too much of a limitation on lived experience to be phenomenological, while comparing this to the importance of Husserl’s intentionality.

To review, a rationalist like Descartes prioritizes rational thought, above and beyond perceptual experience. Once we cut the importance of perceptual experience out of how we know the world, there is a ‘pure’ rational way in which come to know the world. It is with this pure distillation of experience away from the confines of perceptual experience, where we have a type of experience that is universally applicable. To be sure, we must not ignore the simple fact that Descartes still considered empirical perception as the manner in which we apprehend the world and experience, yet rational thought has an essential certainty (like that of math) that Descartes wanted to locate and thus prioritize. Given all this, we are left with a rational distillation of experience away from the confines of perception. This is a problem for the rationalist because it limits experience into rational priority. On the other hand, Husserl wanted phenomenology to be much more philosophically holistic. This indicates the crucial point of intentionality. Let us diagram the above consideration with regard to Cartesian rationality in comparison to Husserl’s intentionality.  

intentionality and descartes

The diagram then should make it clear that the aims between the two philosophers are slightly different, while not in total opposition. Husserl’s aim is getting to know the ‘life-world’ by way of phenomenological understanding is likewise, getting to know the way in which intentionality operates for conscious experience. This indicates that we need to get clear on the way in which conscious experience is intended. What is intended is how we are conscious of phenomena—getting to know how phenomena appear to consciousness is the primary is the goal of the phenomenologist. While taking this into consideration, we must also recognize that the three formal structures of phenomenology (parts and whole, identity in a manifold, and presence and absence) are the means by which phenomena appear to us consciously (i.e. how experience is intended as consciousness). The three formal structures are both empirically evident and rationally evident in the appearance of phenomena for consciousness. This rational component of intentional experience must not be ignored. Husserl’s phenomenology is an eidetic philosophy, it is a search for essences. To reveal the essence of phenomena is to know how phenomena appears to consciousness—to know how phenomena is intended. The search for essences is akin to finding what is a priori while at the same time going beyond the a priori to expose the lived experience of the life-world.

Now it becomes easier to isolate how Cartesian rationalism (the way in which we access the truth) is limited with regard to phenomenology. If we with Descartes, only cherish that which is rational, we must, under his guidelines extract perceptual experience from our findings of the world. Once this is done we are left with a purely rational experience—cogito ergo sum! Yet cogito ergo sum is bought at the expense of perception, otherwise known as the primary way in which phenomena appears to consciousness. Rational thought is simply not the only way phenomena is intended.


…from myth to philosophy


“From Myth to Philosophy: Examining the Transition by Way of Metaphysics and Epistemology”

When we look to the transition from myth to philosophy, we make use of philosophy as a guide into connections that are not readily apparent. Two primary philosophical modes of inquiry are metaphysics and epistemology. The two are defined in a number of ways and this short essay will only focus on metaphysics as the study of ultimate reality, and epistemology as an inquiry into how we rationally understand things—when connected, both disciplines disclose true knowledge. When we are doing philosophy we are not only asking questions, we work to answer the questions we ask: what is ultimate reality (as with metaphysics)? How do we know things rationally (as with epistemology)?

Once we apply these questions to the transition from myth to philosophy, we immediately are reminded of the long-lived mythologist Edith Hamilton who distinguished the ancient Greek myths as inherently rational. Hamilton also distinguishes the myths as distinctly human. The Greek myths are concerned with human problems—human reality. The Greek legends are answering the ancient need for answers about the natural and human realties that could not be explained any other way. This confrontation of nothingness reveals the myths metaphysically. Likewise the myths are answering causal problems, where does war come from?—Ares! If one cause (Ares) brings about the effect of something else (war), we are answering a way we know something, and this is rational and epistemological.

Friedrich Nietzsche hails the first Greek philosopher as Thales, a Presocratic who thought the origin of everything is water. This is an empirical claim, we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell: water. This is another way of showing how we are perceiving the world, this is a way we gain knowledge of things using our rational faculties. Therefore Thales is, not only answering epistemological questions, where does everything come from?—he answers the question scientifically, with empirical evidence, something the myths did not do. Metaphysically, he’s offering us answers to where everything comes from, and to what (empirically) does reality consist of?—water.

Turning to Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, metaphysics and epistemology gain in philosophical complexity. With Socrates we have the famous dialectic, based in dialogue, and aimed at gaining true knowledge while exposing flaws in common and opinionated reasoning. Socrates is a champion of reason in favor of goodness and true knowledge. This is epistemology and it is curiously ethical. When considering metaphysics, we immediately recognize an answer to the question: what is ultimate reality for Plato and Socrates?—the acquisition of true knowledge.

Aristotle, another scientist philosopher, categorized the way we explain things into distinct categories and components. This tendency to organize knowledge is both scientific and metaphysical. To do philosophy is to look at the components of knowledge which constitute reality. This is metaphysical. As mentioned above, to consider causation is to examine how we come to know things and how to explain things. Aristotle’s causal tools give our knowledge explanatory power. This is epistemological.

To philosophically examine the transition from Greek myth to Greek philosophy by way of metaphysics and epistemology is to see a flowing line of inquiry into the ultimate realty and into the way we rationally know things. Such thinking is abstract and takes a readjustment of our everyday understanding, thus fulfilling a demand of Heraclitus the weeping Presocratic, to find connections in what is unapparent.

…from myth to philosophy


Domenico Beccafumi, The Foundryman (Figure of Vulcan in the Metal Foundry), third plate from a series of ten scenes from the Practice of Alchemy, woodcut, 16th century.

The three questions were explained with good philosophical insight. I found problems with Archie & Archie’s so-called “criterion of potatoness.” The easiest way to think of this is by way of basic classification. Be careful to remember that our inclination to classify things is metaphysical, it is not forthcoming in nature in-and-of-itself that we need to classify thing into large, medium, and small. Yet this is not the only way in which we classify things. We might, just as well, classify the potatoes into bad potatoes and good potatoes. We might also classify the potatoes into clean and dirty, and so on. Recall that one characterization of metaphysics is that it is relational. Metaphysics works with the ways in which we see relationships between things, items, and ideas. So all this is to suggest that we often classify items by size, and our sizing might not include the category of medium, or extra-large, or too small, &c.

As for the transition from myth to philosophy, I want to encourage students to steer away from mere descriptions of the transition, and to focus more onto the philosophy at work within the transition. For example, it is a straightforward description to suggest that philosophy questioned accepted myth in a way that myth went unquestioned. This is true, philosophy is looking at the way we know the world in a far more inquisitive way them myth does. Both aim to know the world and both seek to explain the world. One framework questions, where the other framework does not.

The question remains as to how this happened, and what were the philosophical elements that are at play in the transition (metaphysical and/or epistemological)? When we take the epistemological sense of the transition we see an easy way to write of this. When we look to the myths for answers, we find stories of the gods that work to explain ways that things have happened or will happen. To say I am in love has a strong connection to the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Venus). To say the seasons are changing from summer to autumn, is to remember that Demeter’s daughter Persephone is taken back to the underworld by Hades and the transition from summer to fall is easily explained by the abduction of Persephone into the underworld.

Then to the philosophical outlook starting with Thales, for example, and the notion that everything can be traced back to water. This is similar to myth-making in that it seeks an explanation for something, so it is epistemological. It is epistemological because it is showing us a way to know and to understand the world as the myths do. Yet, as Nietzsche indicated, it was distinguished by its impulse to unify everything into one empirical explanation—that all things are one.

Here we easily see a crossover between epistemology and metaphysics, given that when we want to know about the world, we offer explanations, whether by myth or empirical evidence. Metaphysically, we are also working to see a broad-general way of understanding the world from the one to the many. In order to understand this transition from one to many, we have to make empirical leaps, say, when we seek to find a connection between a rock and its aquatic ancestry. When we take such leaps we must go beyond empirical evidence to fill in the blanks, &c. such steps of thinking are metaphysical. These are ways that reality is made up. On one hand, it is readily apparent, and on the other hand, we cannot tell where the connection is to be found.

Additionally, we see the direct ways in which Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle worked to dispel blind acceptance of mythic thinking in their philosophical methodologies. For Plato and Socrates this was accomplished dialectically. Through the art of dialogue, experts were questioned and made to feel uneasy with their alleged knowledge, their supposed expertise. Sure, Socrates was impelled to clarify the Oracle of Delphi’s claim that he was the wisest. But how was he wise, if he did not know anything? This matter had to be investigated in a rational way, by dialogue with those who, on the surface, claim to be wise. The Socratic grilling, the Socratic Method, is rational, it accepts no commonly held belief to get to the bottom of things—a.k.a. higher knowledge.

This rational methodology is different from the reason Hamilton writes of in relation to myth. Yes, the myths are rational, but they do not use rational thought to examine themselves. The myths do not cross examine their own reasoning, whereby Socrates does question the reasoning of the experts like Euthyphro, who claimed to know what holiness is, without realizing that he actually did not have a working definition of the very thing he was charging his own father with.

Then to take another example with metaphysics and Aristotle when we look at causation and his four causes. We see similarity to myth in that myths metaphysically deal with causation, i.e. what’s the cause of volcanos, perhaps Hephaestus (Vulcan) is somehow responsible, Vulcan is the cause. On the other hand, Aristotle is not just seeking the cause from one event to another, he is instead looking at causation itself. What’s the difference between someone making something, what the item is made of, what is the item’s use, what is the item’s ultimate use, and what is its goal, its telos?

Another interesting corollary is between the transition from Plato to Aristotle concerning Plato’s formalism, whereby the difference between Form and form is easily resolved with Aristotle’s rejection of Platonic formalism into the metaphysics of form and substance, which are both ways to think of items, yet Aristotle’s metaphysics is grounded in the objects rather the other-worldly Forms of Plato.

Keep in mind the best option is to work away from mere description and to focus on explaining the philosophical “how” of the transition.

–aurelio madrid

…on ethical relativism


For the Lachs worksheet with Skowronski’s criticism that Lachs’s relativism is actually not very relative, most students got this right and a few did not. Essentially, this was an easy exercise because Lachs kept making claims that sounded remarkably universal and generally objectivist. For example:

“Values vary with the individual’s nature. The good, therefore is not a question of what we think or how we feel but of who we are.”

Here Lachs seem to be making an appeal to a universal good that is attached to human nature, “who we are.” This would be a violation of relativism, since it is suggesting that human-nature leans toward the good, rather than the bad.

“The greatest beneficiary of the universal acceptance of moral relativism would, without a doubt, be human liberty.”

Here again Lachs is explicitly using objectivist language with the key word “universal” in connection to “human liberty” which is yet another objectivist standard. If he were truly relativist, any universal claims would be contradictory to his relativist claim that there are no universal standards, or that there is not a universal human nature. This last claim is something Lachs tried to argue for in the opening arguments of the essay.

Then to the homework on how relativism relates to objectivity. First we must discern the distinction between ethical relativism and what we were calling epistemological relativism. The first type, ethical relativism is what is of interest to us here. The two are related in that epistemological relativism is calling into question objective truth, whereas, ethical relativism is calling into question objective morality. When we speak of objectivity in ethics class, we are usually referring to a standard of truth and/or a standard of morality that we can all agree on.

When we speak of objective morality, we are referring to morality that has normative features of correctness (and incorrectness), propriety (and impropriety), goodness (and not goodness) that can be widely agreed upon from person to person and from culture to culture. We cross-culturally agree, for instance, that people deserve common respect, or that we should not take what is not ours, or that we should be honest with one another. Often, moral objectivity is compared to scientific and mathematical objectivity. The melting point of silver is 1,763°F, there is no dispute over this objectivity, and we might compare this to moral objectivity, whereby we can for instance, safely say that shouting and confrontational behavior toward strangers is typically wrong. Yet, as we learned from Hume, morality does not come from something that “is”. Often such a similarity rests on intuition. In other words, the intuition that the melting point of silver is 1,763°F is assured by way of rational intuition. Similarly, the wrongness of shouting at random strangers is also something felt by conscientious intuition. The question is, are they the same intuition? I would be inclined to say no, they are not the same, given that conscientious intuition has variations of possibility that the melting point of silver does not. Imagine the context of a rock band who yells (shouts and sings) their songs to fans. Here we have an exception to the objective rule, therefore we can provisionally suggest that yelling at strangers does not have the same objectivity as the melting point of silver. So to compare the science/math to the moral is somewhat tricky. The rock band’s yelling could be warmly familiar to their fans who can also be strangers.

This is part of the problem with ethics. We often misunderstand that we are enacting our ethics by reason alone and as we have seen, ethics sometimes has an emotional component that becomes tough to ignore. It becomes tough to pin point at times and it is for this reason that the relativist seizes as a justification for the position that given that we cannot all agree on morality 100% of the time, morality must therefore be relative, or without objectivity.

This gets back to objectivity, we roughly define it as moral objectivity covering the idea that there are standards by which we all (for the most part) agree on as standards by which we can live and cooperate with one another. Sometimes these look like laws, sometimes these look like unsaid codes of behavior. As we noticed, every student walks into class, sits down, cooperates, thinks about, verbalizes questions, writes down and listens to the professor’s lesson. This is an unsaid rule that is also ethical, to not do it would be problematic from the vantage that erratic behavior would be potentially threatening and invasive. It also is problematic for the student who wishes to be absent, and so on. We cannot say that such things are 100% objective, but we can at least say that it’s best to stay close to keeping such things objective.

All this leads to part of the problem and counter arguments against relativism. In your essays, be sure that when you are writing about the problems and counter arguments with relativism that you are not merely ‘describing’ relativism. When a student writes that a problem for relativism is that we cannot agree about what is right and what is wrong. Yes, this is a problem, but it is simply describing relativism and not showing “how” it is a problem. When you place the words onto the page, be sure to show how relativism has counter arguments that expose its problems and how it works.

For example, when we wrote about Pojman threatening to give his students an F, most students immediately recognized that this was problematic because it is morally suspect to randomly give students an F regardless of their performance. In this case Pojman was hypothetically acting on relativism, so as to demonstrate to the students that they also adhere to the ethical standards of the classroom, even if they mistakenly thought they were relativists to begin with. We attend class under the presupposition that we will be treated fairly and that our work will be grading honestly and according to our earnest scholarship. If relativism were true, we would not think of Pojman’s arbitrary grading as morally suspect. This is a relativist position because it challenges the convention that we all objectively agree upon when we sign up to classes. The objective rules of the classroom are accepted ways in which we as students agree to be evaluated, so Pojman’s sudden challenge to this with the threat to award students with an F, and their flat refusal to accept this is a pretty good counter to relativism. It also shows us the intricate way in which we follow objective rules without ever examining the inter-workings of such seemingly straightforward ethical issues of the classroom we all agree to.

So the key is to avoid a description of moral relativism as the position that rejects objectivity, and stick to a way of writing about the counterarguments with the aim of showing “how” relativism is problematic.

…aurelio madrid