RePresentations: Philosophical Essays on the Foundations of Cognitive Science Critical Essays

Jerry A. Fodor

Criticism of Dennet’s “Intentional Stance”

As this suggests, Fodor is a realist about the propositional attitudes and a staunch champion of the folk psychological theory that posits them. Several of the articles in RePresentations, including both “Propositional Attitudes” and “Three Cheers for Propositional Attitudes,” defend against antirealist views that seek to eliminate the propositional attitudes. “Three Cheers for Propositional Attitudes” is largely a criticism of some work by Daniel Dennett, particularly the consequences he draws from his “intentional stance.” According to Dennett, in their interactions with other beings and objects, people can choose to adopt one of three different stances: the physical stance, the design stance, and the intentional stance.

When people adopt the physical stance toward something, they predict its behavior on the basis of its physical constitution; when they adopt the design stance, they predict its behavior on the basis of its purpose or design. In contrast, when they adopt the intentional stance toward something, they predict its behavior on the basis of what it would be rational for that thing to do. Which stance people adopt, according to Dennett, is a wholly pragmatic matter. This, however, implies that there are no intentional facts that correspond to the ascriptions people make when they adopt the intentional stance. Against this, Fodor argues that the reason that the intentional stance is useful in making behavioral predictions about other beings, and in developing psychological theories, is that it is true. People are inclined to adopt the intentional stance toward their friends and neighbors not simply because it is pragmatically beneficial for them to do so but also because there is no other reasonable framework for them to use in making psychological generalizations.