An argument that the fundamental features of intentionality are "natural" and not "cultural" or "linguistic"


Natural Signs

A Theory of Intentionality

Laird Addis

cloth EAN: 978-0-87722-631-4 (ISBN: 0-87722-631-8)
$29.95, Oct 89, Out of Print
199 pp 6x9

"Natural Signs is very clearly written and with admirable style. It combines sound scholarship with innovative philosophical theses. Prof. Addis knows the contemporary literature well, but he does not merely summarize. He advances a rather original theory of the nature of intentionality. He also gives a concise overview of historical themes relevant to his main topic. I know of no pulication which covers the same ground as this book."
Reinhardt Grossmann, Professor of Philosophy, Indiana University

With a unique and original defense, Laird Addis presents a detailed theory of intentionality that holds that to be aware of something is to exemplify a property of a sort called a natural sign—an entity that by its very nature represents something else. Arguing from an analytic standpoint for a view more commonly found in the phenomenological tradition, the author debates opposing theories, especially those that hold: (1) that to be aware of something is merely to be in a certain relation to it; and (2) that whatever is in the mind only conventionally rather than naturally represents the object of awareness.

Addis argues that the only way to account for the phenomenon known as the unity of thought is to suppose that natural signs are simple entities, even when they represent complex objects. And he maintains that this dualistic philosophy of mind with its thesis of the "irreducibility" of intentionality is, contrary to what many on various sides of the issue suppose, fully consistent with the scientific worldview.

The theory of natural signs also leads to the formulation and defense of a new solution to the ancient problem of how it is possible to think of something that does not exist. While Natural Signs is not a historical study, among the philosophers whose views are considered in some detail are Meinong, Husserl, Russell, Sartre, Bergmann, Sellars, Putnam, Rosenberg, Armstrong, Hochberg, and Searle.


Excerpt available at

"A natural sign is an entity that by its very nature represents something else. The expression comes from the fourteenth-century philosopher William of Ockham, who writes of the "signum naturale" or, more often, the "terminus conceptus" and who says that "a conceptual term is a mental content or impression which natually possesses signification." This use of the expression is therefore most emphatically not to be confused with the more common use that refers to causal connection in which, for example, smoke is a natural sign of fire.

"The main thesis of this book is that the curious phenomenon known as intentionality can be adequately acounted for philosophically only on the assumption that states of consciousness are or contain natural signs of those things they are said, preanalytically, to be states of consciousness of. The development of this thesis results in a theory that in content is similar to accounts of intentionality to be found mostly in the "phenomenological" branch of our recent Western philosophical tradition. Yet, while I eschew arguments from the meanings of propositions or the analysis of concepts, it may be said that the modes of argument, the aspiration for precision and clarity, and the urge to have a philosophy of mind that is heedful of the presuppositions and findings of empirical science derive more from my own, the "analytic" branch of that same great tradition."

From the Preface


"The book is an extremely sophisticated defense of its thesis and sensitive and attentive to the current alternatives in analytical philosophy of mind (Wittgenstein, Putnam, Searle); the book also contains an original and informative discussion of varieties of behaviorism. Natural Signs will be unique among recent contributions to the analytical philosophy of mind and (perhaps especially) appealing to those out side of that tradition as well."
Richard E. Aquila, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Part One: Frame of Reference
Consciousness and the Starting Place of Philosophy
Part Two: The Theory of Natural Signs
The Background to Natural Sign Theory • The Arguments for Natural Signs • Objections to Natural Sign Theory • The Intentional Connection • Mental Acts and the Scientific Worldview
Part Three: Going Beyond
Consciousness and Time • Consciousness and Particularity
Name Index
Subject Index


About the Author(s)

Laird Addis is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Iowa and author of The Logic of Society: A Philosophical Study.

Subject Categories

Philosophy and Ethics


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