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Metaphysics / Philosophy

Intentionality and Rational Action

This post is part of the series Words and Concepts

Other posts in this series:

  1. Intentionality and Reasoning
  2. Intentionality and Rational Action (Current)
  3. Thoughts
  4. Recognition and Concept Formation

Previously I have shown that rationality is linked to the formation of concepts but not perception. In order to further understand the difference between rational intentionality and natural intentionality, I am going to investigate that other property of rational beings – rational action. Rational action is when a person makes an affirmation true that was false apart from his action.

Rational action can be defined as doing something for a reason. The problem is that when we are attempting to distinguish between the actions ‘done’ rationally and those done without rationality, such a distinction is not nearly enough. A rock falls when it is dropped. So in a matter of speaking, it is permissible to claim that the rock falls for a reason. That reason is the gravitational attraction between the rock and the earth. The distinction between this and rational action is conceptual.

The reasons present in rational action are understood as concepts. Factual knowledge is an affirmation of two or more concepts. Rational action takes such an affirmation that is presently false and attempts to make it true. The affirmation that one is attempting to make true is the reason for the action. So rational acts are those acts done in order to make an affirmation true. It immediately follows that one can only act rationally if the reason for the action is understood by the person doing the act. This manages to distinguish between rational action and the actions of rocks that fall when released.

Once we have rational action, then the other concepts unique to rational agents follow as well. Moral responsibility is simply the affirmation that a particular act was done by a particular person and that act was done rationally. If the act was a rational act, then it was done rationally. So it makes sense to either praise or blame the person who acted. It also makes sense to claim that their action was either good or bad and either right or wrong. Such things follow immediately from the act itself being rational.

So rational intentionality is seen in rational action by intending to bring about an affirmation. It is seen in reasoning in two ways: by gaining concepts and by explaining one affirmation by means of another. All of these things use concepts. So we can safely claim that the use of concepts is distinctive of rational intentionality. Concepts are used in order to gain knowledge and act. Action and knowledge are both done because they are good; knowledge is good in itself and action may be so as well. So rational intentionality is just the representation of one thing for another in order to gain something good.

In order to complete an understanding of intentionality in language, there is one thing left to understand. Representation is when one thing is used in place of another. But what is it?

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