A recent post over at Cranky Philosopher argues that it isn’t.
His post opens with:
states. To establish this thesis all I need is one good example. So
consider the felt pain that ensues when I plunge my hand into extremely
hot water. This felt pain or phenomenal pain is a conscious mental
state. But it does not exhibit intentionality.
He follows with an argument for the said claim which is a bit too long to post here.
His view, if I understand it, is that the experience of properties such as pain, color, warmth, are not intentional, as a mental state is only intentional if it “essentially” has an object. The notion of an ‘object’ is left undefined, but he got quite bellicose when I asked for clarification (I suggested that properties can be objects).
I realize that more traditional phenomenologists would say that pain is not intentional, but I am frankly not convinced by ol’ Cranky’s argument to this effect. My favorite philosopher, Dretske, would certainly disagree: pains are representations that function to pick out damaged states of the body (this isn’t sufficient for a representation to be a pain, but it is part of his story). Rosenthal has a different account. He would say that conscious pains are representations of pains (where the unconscious first-order pains can be analyzed in a roughly Dretskian fashion).
So in Dretske and Rosenthal’s accounts of conscious contents, the conscious representations have a target other than themselves, a target I would be perfectly happy to call the intentional object of the representation. While I’m not saying either of them has provided a final theory of consciousness, this aspect of their theories is plausible.
So, even though the pain arguably doesn’t wear its object on its sleeve (e.g., a caveman didn’t know what a stomach ache picked out, but just had an unpleasant experience in his midsection), that doesn’t mean it has no object. Perhaps phenomenologists like Cranky, by focusing on examples from the visual system (which provides us with an experience of clearly individuated objects), get it wrong.
Note I bring this discussion here because Cranky’s response when I asked questions hoping for clarification was
the civilized “You are an idiot please never post comments at my blog
again.” So, I thought I would bring the discussion to a site more
amenable to actual discussions.