Heidegger (GA20) – intencionalidade

We will try to show that intentionality is a structure of lived experiences as such and not a coordination relative to other realities, something added to the experiences taken as psychic states. It should first be noted that this attempt to make intentionality clear, to see it and in so doing to apprehend what it is, cannot hope to succeed in a single move. We must free ourselves from the prejudice that, because phenomenology calls upon us to apprehend the matters themselves, these matters must be apprehended all at once, without any preparation. Rather, the movement toward the matters themselves is a long and involved process which, before anything else, has to remove the prejudices which obscure them.

Intentio literally means directing-itself-toward. Every lived experience, every psychic comportment, directs itself toward something. Representing is a representing of something, recalling is a recalling of something, judging is judging about something, presuming, expecting, hoping, loving, hating—of something. But, one will object, this is a triviality hardly in need of explicit emphasis, certainly no special achievement meriting the designation of discovery. Notwithstanding, let us pursue this triviality a bit and bring out what it means phenomenologically.

The following considerations call for no special talent. They do demand that we set aside our prejudices, learn to see directly and simply and to abide by what we see without asking, out of curiosity, what we can do with it. In the face of the most obvious of matters, the very fact of the matter is the most difficult thing we may hope to attain, because man’s element of existence is the artificial and mendacious, where he is always already cajoled by others. It is erroneous to think that phenomenologists are models of excellence who stand out in their resolve to wage an all-out war with this element, in their positive will-to-disclose and nothing else.

Let us envisage an exemplary and readily available case of ‘psychic comportment’: a concrete and natural perception, the perception of a chair which I find upon entering a room and push aside, since it stands in my way. I stress the latter in order to indicate that we are after the most common kind of everyday perception and not a perception in the emphatic sense, in which we observe only for the sake of observing. Natural perception as I live in it in moving about my world is for the most part not a detached observation and scrutiny of things, but is rather absorbed in dealing with the matters at hand concretely and practically. It is not self-contained; I do not perceive in order to perceive but in order to orient myself, to pave the way in dealing with something. This is a wholly natural way of looking in which I continually live.

A crude interpretation tends to depict the perception of the chair in this way: a specific psychic event occurs within me; to this psychic occurrence ‘inside,’ ‘in consciousness,’ there corresponds a physically real thing ‘outside.’ A coordination thus arises between the reality of consciousness (the subject) and a reality outside of consciousness (the object). The psychic event enters into a relationship with something else, outside of it. But in itself it is not necessary for this relationship to occur, since this perception can be an illusion, a hallucination. It is a psychological fact that psychic processes occur in which something is perceived—presumably—which does not even exist. It is possible for my psychic process to be beset by a hallucination such that I now perceive an automobile being driven through the room over your heads. In this case, no real object corresponds to the psychic process in the subject. Here we have a perceiving without the occurrence of a relationship to something outside of it. Or consider the case of a deceptive perception: I am walking in a dark forest and see a man coming toward me; but upon closer inspection it turns out to be a tree. Here also the object supposedly perceived in this deceptive perception is absent. In view of these indisputable facts which show that the real object can in fact be missing in perception, it can not be said that every perception is the perception of something. In other words, intentionality, directing itself toward something, is not a necessary mark of every perception. And even if some physical object should correspond to every psychic event which I call a perception, it would still be a dogmatic assertion; for it is by no means established that I ever get to a reality beyond my consciousness.

Since Descartes, everyone knows and every critical philosophy maintains that I actually only apprehend ‘contents of consciousness.’ Accordingly, the application of the concept of intentionality to the comportment of perception, for example, already implies a double presupposition. First, there is the metaphysical presupposition that the psychic comes out of itself toward something physical. With Descartes, as everyone knows, this became a forbidden presupposition. Second, there is in intentionality the presupposition that a real object always corresponds to a psychic process. The facts of deceptive perception and hallucination speak against this. This is what Rickert maintains and many others, when they say that the concept of intentionality harbors latent metaphysical dogmas. And yet, with this interpretation of perception as hallucination and deceptive perception, do we really have intentionality in our sights? Are we talking about what phenomenology means by this term? In no way! So little, in fact, that use of the interpretation just given as a basis for a discussion of intentionality would hopelessly block access to what the term really means phenomenologically. Let us therefore clear the air by going through the interpretation once again and regarding it more pointedly. For its ostensible triviality is not at all comprehensible without further effort. But first, the base triviality of spurious but common epistemological questions must be laid to rest.

Let us recall the hallucination. It will be said that the automobile here is in reality not present and on hand. Accordingly, there is no coordination between psychic and physical. Only the psychic is given. Nonetheless, is not the hallucination in its own right a hallucination, a presumed perception of an automobile? Is it not also the case that this presumed perception, which is without real relationship to a real object, precisely as such is a directing-itself-toward something presumably perceived? Is not the deception itself as such a directing-itself-toward, even if the real object is in fact not there?

It is not the case that a perception first becomes intentional by having something physical enter into relation with the psychic, and that it would no longer be intentional if this reality did not exist. It is rather the case that perception, correct or deceptive, is in itself intentional. Intentionality is not a property which would accrue to perception and belongs to it in certain instances. As perception, it is intrinsically intentional, regardless of whether the perceived is in reality on hand or not. Indeed, it is really only because perception as such is a directing-itself-toward something, because intentionality constitutes the very structure of comportment itself, that there can be anything like deceptive perception and hallucination.

When all epistemological assumptions are set aside, it becomes clear that comportment itself—as yet quite apart from the question of its correctness or incorrectness—is in its very structure a directing-itself-toward. It is not the case that at first only a psychic process occurs as a nonintentional state (complex of sensations, memory relations, mental image and thought processes through which an image is evoked, where one then asks whether something corresponds to it) and subsequently becomes intentional in certain instances. Rather, the very being of comporting is a directing-itself-toward. Intentionality is not a relationship to the non-experiential added to experiences, occasionally present along with them. Rather, the lived experiences themselves are as such intentional. This is our first specification, perhaps still quite empty, but already important enough to provide the footing for holding metaphysical prejudices at bay.