David Oderberg

David S Oderberg (University of Reading):
Finality Revived: Powers and Intentionality

November 12, 2014, Corpus Christi College, Rainolds Room



Proponents of physical intentionality argue that the classic hallmarks of intentionality highlighted by Brentano are also found in purely physical powers. Critics worry that this idea is metaphysically obscure at best, and at worst leads to panpsychism or animism. I examine the debate in detail, finding both confusion and illumination in the physical intentionalist thesis. Analysing a number of the canonical features of intentionality, I show that they all point to one overarching phenomenon of which both the mental and the physical are kinds, namely finality. This is the finality of ‘final causes’, the long-discarded idea of universal action for an end to which recent proponents of physical intentionality are in fact pointing whether or not they realise it. I explain finality in terms of the concept of specific indifference, arguing that in the case of the mental, specific indifference is realised by the process of abstraction, which has no correlate in the case of physical powers. This analysis, I conclude, reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of rational creatures such as us, as well as only partly demystifying the way in which powers work.

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