Non-Intentional Mental Phenomena

I had a discussion with a friend few days ago about non-intentional mental phenomena. Here is what I ended up defending…

In our lives we are sometimes nervous, sometimes uneasy, sometimes sad, and sometimes happy and eclectic.
But we are not nervous, uneasy, sad, and happy towards something. We are nervous, uneasy, etc… because of something. Sometimes it is a reason that we are aware of, but other times it might be result just of chemical imbalance in our body. But in both cases, even if the reason is something that we are aware of, the nervousness, happiness, or sadness are not connected to just that particular content, but are present through (or within) the other mental acts that we do. So even I’m nervous because my work wasn’t appreciated enough, the nervousness won’t be limited only to the thoughts of the boss not appreciating my work.

Here we can point that often we do use “sad about X”, or “nervous about X”. For example “She is sad about John’s leaving the city”, or “He is nervous about the meeting”, and so on… Also we ask “What is he/she nervous about?” or “What is he/she happy about?”

Of course in those cases, while the “about” points to the reason why somebody is sad, nervous, happy, and so on, we don’t think that the nervousness is special mental act oriented towards the intentional content in question. In fact we can probably say, that whenever the person thinks *about*…, or remembers *that*…,  he gets sad, nervous, happy, and so on. And while there are verbs (or if there aren’t we can invent ones) which relate to those nouns, I don’t think that the verbs will point to genuinely simple intentional acts, but to thinking about/remembering of etc… something combined with how we are affected by it (i.e. how it makes us sad, happy, and so on…)

For those reasons it seems to me unproblematic to say that there are non-intentional mental phenomena (for which we have names, e.g. ‘sadness’, ‘happiness’, ‘nervousness’, etc…).

But to accept that there are non-intentional mental phenomena is not to say that those phenomena can be self-subsistent, i.e. that there can be some part of our life where we can be merely sad, happy, nervous, and so on  without in same time performing any intentional act. In other words even if we accept that there are non-intentional mental phenomena, it doesn’t follow that any actual part of our conscious life can
be without intentionality.

I will try to give analogy with objects, their form and their color. We can say that there is a phenomenon of colors which doesn’t fall under phenomenon of form, but that still color can be present only if there are objects, and all objects have form. So while we can talk about non-form phenomena in case of objects (i.e. colors), there can’t be merely colored object without that object having form. Or… that color will always show itself in the actual cases as related to some form. In this analogy ‘object’ stands for part of our conscious life, ‘color’ for non-intentional mental phenomena, and ‘form’ for intentional mental phenomena.

3 thoughts on “Non-Intentional Mental Phenomena

  1. When I’m sad, everything I am conscious of becomes sad. I am sad towards everything. Bananas at the moment of ripeness are sad. I am conscious of bananas as sad. If I reflect on my sadness, I am conscious of my sadness as sad. I’m having a hard time seeing why mood isn’t both a phenomenon of consciousness and a phenomenon of intentionality. I get the feeling you understand what I am saying, but you still see a reason for regarding mood as nonintentional.

    Interesting problem.

  2. Hi Fido, thanks for the interesting comment!

    I agree that it is OK to say that the world is tinted in sadness when we are sad. And that people understand what that means, whatever it means.

    But is it true literally? Or is it just a metaphor which reminds us of how when being sad, we have a hard time enjoying the beauty, the weirdness, the interestingness or those other characteristics of the things which usually attract our attention. So, maybe “the world is sad, when I’m sad” just because I fail to see those other characteristics.

    So, sadness would in this kind of story affect our intentional acts. It would affect what attracts our attention, what we fail to see, and who knows, maybe even affect our seeing, hearing (so that we fail to see some part of the color-aspect that we usually see). Maybe literally we see more the bluish-aspect of the world when we are sad.

  3. Hi, Tanasije.

    “But is it true literally?” Well, that was my argument, but I’m not sure its true.

    Reportedly Michel Henry presents an argument similar to yours in Phénoménologie matérielle–I don’t have access to a translation if there is one.

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