Higher-Order Intentionality and Dretske's View of Analytic Knowledge


Dretske makes arguments in which he suggests three levels of the intentionality of knowledge: (1) a low level belonging to law-like causal relationships between physical properties, (2) a middle level defined in terms of the intensionality of sentences describing knowledge of these properties, and (3) a highest level of human cognition. Acknowledging the need to explain humans’ analytic knowledge, however, he proposes that we know a proposition P analytically when we know that P entails Q, even though P and Q are not identical. I explore examples of deduction involving properties of every-day life, such as being a bachelor, being a stay-at-home mom, and being a consultant. I argue that to make these common sense inferences, the average person has to be aware of both analytical entailments and propositional entailments. While the former simply is knowing that if Emily is a stay-at-home mom, then Emily is female, for example, the latter requires us to be conscious of the (often complex) logical structure given to our beliefs by the deductive connectives AND, NOT, and OR. From an empirical standpoint, there are two general possibilities for reductive accounts of these kinds of awareness. One would be a counterfactually defined set of causal criteria, such as Dretske’s. The other would involve statistical patterns of synaptic connections between neural phenomena, whose firings represent our concepts for AND, NOT, and OR. I argue that neither of these reductive explanations is viable; and that in order to explain the success of our inferences, we must appeal to two kinds of higher cognitive intentionality. First, we usually have some conscious awareness of analytical and propositional entailments when we engage in common sense-based deduction. Second, we often have a conscious intention to think deductively during these inferences, which drives our success.

Author's Profile

Sudan Turner
University of Washington


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