Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘intentionality’

Caution, dolphins at play

Posted by metaphorical on 20 January 2008

How do private experiences become public? How do we know what others are thinking? Mainly, we infer intentionality. We see things in the world as objects of an intention, and we see some activity as behavior directed toward a goal, as motivated by some desire or need.

Doing so seems impossible. We infer at once both the desire and the desirability, ignoring the Catch-22, chicken-and-egg nature of such an inference.

The problem is particularly acute when the activity is a game. Here, there is no obvious need or desire, such as food or sexual pleasure. Here, we need to discern as well as a desire, such as to win, the rules of the game itself, or at least to discern its nature as a game. Yet in Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein argues that we do this successfully all the time, even as children.



How do we know what animals are thinking? The same way. Take a look at this video of dolphins playing (thanks, Paul, for the link) and see if the behavior depicted doesn’t seem intentional. We infer intentionality to mammals all the time, whether pets in our homes or animals on the farm.

Cats and cattle alike seem to have food preferences, and favorite places to lie down and enjoy the sunshine of a beautiful spring day. We build shelters for farm animals and expect them to use them on their own in bad weather. Cattle aren’t as smart, beautiful, and playful as these dolphins. But they still deserve our respect as fellow sentient creatures. How we make their lives miserable and kill them for profit and convenience is still a puzzle to me.

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