A foreign student emailed me the following questions.
(1) According to Jerry Fodor, does intentionality reduce to the reference of mental symbols plus the relation between the subject and the symbols?
(2) Under this theory, what happens to Gricean “communicative intentionality”?
As far as I can tell the answer to (1) is, roughly, yes. The difference bewteen beliefs, desires, and other mental states is in the different functional relations they stand in with the subject that has them. The difference between beliefs about dogs vs. beliefs about cats is that the former refer to dogs, while the latter refer to cats. And mutatis mutandis, it’s not just Fodor. Most philosophers of mind with naturalistic inclinations believe that mental states’ capacity of being about things–their intentionality–is due to how they relate to the things they represent and to the subject that has them. At least, this should be a decent first approximation.
Now to question (2). According to Grice, the meaning of statements is fixed in part by speakers’ intentions. Ok, but intentions can do this because they are assumed to already possess mental content. What gives mental content to intentions? Grice did not have much of an answer to that. Fodor (and other naturalistically inclined philosophers of mind) do. The answer is that intentions are mental representations, and mental representations have content because of how they relate to what they represent plus how they relate to the subject that has them.
This way, Fodor (and others) can help Grice complete his theory of meaning in a naturalistic direction. As far as I can tell, this was one of the original motivations that got naturalized theories of content off the ground. Does this sound right?