Towards a Cognitive Neuroscience of Intentionality
Received: 20 January 2017 / Accepted: 19 May 2017 / Published online: 29 May 2017
Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017
Abstract We situate the debate on intentionality within the rise of cognitive neu-
roscience and argue that cognitive neuroscience can explain intentionality. We
discuss the explanatory signiﬁcance of ascribing intentionality to representations. At
ﬁrst, we focus on views that attempt to render such ascriptions naturalistic by
construing them in a deﬂationary or merely pragmatic way. We then contrast these
views with staunchly realist views that attempt to naturalize intentionality by
developing theories of content for representations in terms of information and
biological function. We echo several other philosophers by arguing that these the-
ories over-generalize unless they are constrained by a theory of the functional role
of representational vehicles. This leads to a discussion of the functional roles of
representations, and how representations might be realized in the brain. We argue
that there’s work to be done to identify a distinctively mental kind of representation.
We close by sketching a way forward for the project of naturalizing intentionality.
This will not be achieved simply by ascribing the content of mental states to generic
neural representations, but by identifying speciﬁc neural representations that explain
the puzzling intentional properties of mental states.
Keywords Intentionality Á Representation Á Cognitive neuroscience Á Mechanisms
& Gualtiero Piccinini
Rice University, Houston, TX, USA
University of Missouri–St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
Minds & Machines (2018) 28:119–139