Intentionality is a matter that has worried philosophers for a long time. Scholars unanimously agree that Franz Brentano is the one who introduced the issue into contemporary philosophy, bringing back a concern already raised by the Aristotelian tradition. Despite the tremendous amount of studies on intentionality, those who deal with its historical roots are still missing. Hamid Taieb’s primary aim in this book is precisely to fill this gap and to investigate the development of Brentano’s tripartition between intentionality, causality and reference. Furthermore, the volume examines whether others before Brentano had recognized this distinction in Aristotle. The starting point is Metaphysics Δ15, where a first demarcation between three different classes of relationships is established. Taieb reviews in detail the diverse interpretations that the Scholastic tradition has given of this passage. The final purpose is to show that Brentano conceives of intentionality as a relation that cannot be reduced to causality or reference and that this tripartition is historically anchored in Aristotelianism, regardless of the actual influence on Brentano’s work. Taieb tries to prove the validity of this proposal by scrutinizing an extraordinary number of works, including unpublished texts from Brentano’s Nachlaß. Thus, I shall confine myself to briefly showing the content of the different chapters and eventually present a personal assessment of this work.
The first chapter sets the stage by introducing some conceptual and methodological distinctions, also referring to the contemporary debate in philosophy of mind. The author points out that the main purpose of his research is exquisitely philological and not merely exegetical. Moreover, he stresses that the motivations that led to the distinction between intentionality, causality and (mental) reference are purely philosophical, and they appear throughout the history of philosophy. More specifically, the main reason for the tripartition between intentionality, causality and reference, is the so-called problem of non-existent objects.
Chapter 2 sets out the actual research and focuses in more detail on the connections between causality and intentionality in the Aristotelian tradition. The starting point is the debate between Burnyeat and Sorabji on psychic causality in the Aristotelian tradition and its connection with intentionality. It then goes on to analyse the concept of « discrimination » (κρίσις) before dealing with the medieval debates on causality and intentionality. Both Alexander of Aphrodisias and the Neoplatonist commentators identify a special type of psychic relation called “discrimination” (κρίσις), which is distinct from the being-affected by which sensation and intellection occur. The final result of the analysis shows that there has been a constant tension between causalist and intentionalist readings. Finally, it moves back to the evolution of Brentano, showing the similarities between his view and the Aristotelians. The Aristotelian tradition neither reduced causality to intentionality nor intentionality to causality but tried to draw a clear distinction between these two aspects. This is true as much for Scholastics as for Brentano. Of particular interest in this section is the introduction of two arguments for the distinction between intentionality and causality. The first comes from the Scholastic tradition and suggests, as some kind of thought experiment, that if God were the cause of our mental acts, it would, therefore, be necessary to distinguish between the object of our act and its cause (i.e. God). The second argument is more popular and is still being discussed in the contemporary debate on the problem of perception. The argument from hallucination claims that hallucinatory perceptual acts are intentionally identical to veridical acts, but are not so concerning the relationship between the agent and her environment.
Chapter 3 investigates the role played by Metaphysics Δ.15 and other texts, in particular, the section of Categories 7 about relations or πρός τι, in the debate on the characteristics of intentionality and its correlate. This is the most complex and articulated chapter, where Taieb presents his critical arguments in defence of a relationalist reading of Brentano’s intentionality. After reviewing some contemporary readings of Aristotle, Taieb argues that in the Athenian philosopher, we can already find the two main strategies provided by the advocates of relational intentionality when confronted with the problem of non-existent objects. One solution is to introduce intentional objects (i.e. ficta, impossibilia and common items), the other is allowing an unconventional relation without two relata. The first section (§ 3.2) deals with the concept of intentional object and its ontological status from Neoplatonists to Brentano, while the second part (§ 3.3.) focuses on the relationship between the intentional act and its object. The fulcrum of this chapter is the debate between continuist and discontinuist interpretations of Brentano. Both readings agree that Brentano after 1904 by dismissing irrealia, he also rejects unreal correlates. The real matter of discord is the notion of object. According to discontinuists (Marty, Kastil, Kraus, Chisholm, Baumgartner, Mulligan, Barry Smith, and Chrudzimski), an object denotes an unreal correlate that has only an intentional existence. The object is understood in relation to mental activity. Once the act ceases to be, the same applies to the object. According to this reading, once Brentano subscribes to reism, he discards both irrealia and intentional objects. Taieb supports this latter view and he argues that the key demarcation in Brentano is between the object tout court, which is not relative to the act, and the object as object, which is relative to the act. However, unlike standard discontinuism, Taieb argues that the late Brentano, in order to solve the problems raised by intentional objects, adopts a theory similar to Suárez’s ‘psychic denomination’. Intentionality entails neither an unreal correlate nor the existence of the object, and it is a real relation since the equation between reality and causality is rejected by the late Brentano. Conversely, continuists (Sauer, Antonelli and Fréchette) contends that the identification between the intentional object and the unreal correlate is erroneous and that there is nothing like an intentional existence. They argue that Brentano, from the beginning to the end of his work, has never dropped the notion of intentional object. This latter, as far as its existence is concerned, is ontologically neutral; namely it is nothing more than what is intended.
Chapter 4 deals with the notion of reference. Brentano qualifies the reference as a relationship of quasi-sameness (Quasigleichheit) between an immanent and transcendent object. After 1904, with his departure from immanent objects, he started to conceive the reference as a relationship of similarity (Ähnlichkeit), as many medieval Scholastics did. One of the reasons that Taieb alleges for this shift to the notion of similarity is that sameness works between an immanent object and a real object, since these two entities have a sort of definitional overlap. In the relation between a cognitive act and its object, there is no such definitional overlap. Finally, the difference between reference, intentionality and causality is shown. Taieb also proves in this case that the arguments used by Brentano to support this distinction are already present in the Scholastic tradition, except for Aquinas who argued that intentionality is a relation of similarity.
Chapter 5 eventually draws some final considerations. Taieb first briefly reviews the main findings of the research and then presents some remarks of high interest in the philosophy of the history of philosophy. He argues that his work is meant to examine the philosophical dimension of texts from the past from the perspective of historical reconstruction. The occasional use of contemporary terms is only intended to clarify concepts that could be obsolete for most readers today, without neglecting the fidelity to the author considered. The final result is a holistic attempt at understanding an author’s thought and arguments by placing them in their context. This does not rule out the possibility that the same philosophical concerns may sometimes arise at different historical moments, and all the answers supporting them become disposable at the same time, regardless of the particular periods in which they appeared.
Taieb’s book is extremely detailed, scientifically rigorous and enriched by an outstanding philological apparatus. The only flaw I have managed to detect is that sometimes this primacy of philology seems to leave no room for exquisitely philosophical insights. For someone who is not a Brentano or Aristotle scholar, it might, in fact, be quite easy to miss the point or get lost in details. I believe, for example, that it would have been intriguing to see the broadest scope of the investigation and to further clarify the implications for the contemporary philosophical debate as well as a closer confrontation with the so-called new Brentanians, only partially addressed. However, the remarkable and exhaustive amount of work carried out by Taieb makes this publication extremely relevant. The uniqueness of the inquiry results in an excellent and thoughtful piece of work, opening up a fruitful area of research yet to be explored. Besides being a valuable tool for historians of philosophy, it can undoubtedly be of interest to all those concerned with intentionality, whether they are historians, phenomenologists or philosophers of mind.