Wednesday, June 11, 2008

more delightful surprises from Leibniz

About ten years ago, William Lyons wrote an informative book on intentionality (Approaches to Intentionality). One of the views he discussed was one in which intentionality was a biological function of informational covariance, where representational contents are analyzed by relations of causation and “signals.” The important point of that theory is that intentionality is NOT basic (and neither is mind as such) and therefore apt to be naturalized.

I was reminded of that view today in reading and thinking about Leibniz on the “perception” of monads. I put the term in scary quotation marks because for Leibniz perception in monads is analyzed by way of Leibniz’s technical notion of expression, where expression really has nothing irreducibly psychological about it at all.

When Leibniz says of monads that they express the entire universe from their respective “points of view,” similarly we should resist thinking of “points of view” as anything more than metaphor.

A “point of view,” like “perception,” is really just a way of talking about an information covariance, which is the job description of expression in Leibniz’s metaphysics.

“p expresses q” = “p contains information about q.” The nature of the containment is not irreducibly psychological, though it can be psychological (just not irreducibly so). A perception is just a special case of expression, which itself is just a case of informational covariance.

The surprise is that it accords so well with the spirit of some recent attempts to naturalize intentionality, though of course not with the letter.

If all this is correct (and I’m not saying anything original about how best to interpret Leibniz), then it poses huge challenges for Leibniz. When he says of a perception by a monad that it can differ in degrees of clarity and distinctness, the temptation to draw from the stock of commonsense, folk psychological concepts to elucidate these differences between the perceptions of monads is powerful. It has to be resisted, however, if he is to make good on the promissory note to analyze perception by means of expression (and not vice versa).
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