What is Mental state?

What is Criminal

We said that a mental state or mental process is a kind of condition or process which can be had only by thinking, feeling creatures.

Some examples we considered were:

  • pains
  • itches
  • the experience of seeing red
  • hearing yourself think
  • wanting to go on vacation
  • remembering that Henry VIII was an English king
  • remembering your first kiss
  • believing that Harvard is located in Massachusetts
  • emotions
  • intending to do the laundry tomorrow

Let's talk a bit about some important categories of mental states.

Representational States

Many mental states are representational. What this means is that they're about things. For instance, consider the belief that Harvard is located in Massachusetts. This belief is about Harvard, and about Massachusetts. The belief that Harvard is located in Vermont would also be about Harvard.

Many representational states concern the possibility of things being one way rather than another. For instance, the belief that Harvard is in Vermont concerns Harvard being located in one place rather than another. My wish that I could dance like Fred Astaire concerns my dancing one way rather than another. We call these states propositional attitudes. A proposition is the sort of thing that can be true or false, and can be believed or denied. Harvard is located in Vermont and I dance like Fred Astaire are two examples of propositions. A propositional attitude is a kind of "mental stance" you take towards a proposition. In the first example, you believe the proposition to be true. In the second example, I wish that the proposition were true.

When we talk about representational states in this class, we will always be concerned with propositional attitudes like that. (It is controversial whether there are any representational states that aren't propositional attitudes.)

Another term that you may see used to describe representational states is "intentional." (Note how it's spelled. There's another term we'll encounter later that's spelled "intensional." That means something slightly different.) When people talk about your "forming an intention, " and about your "doing something intentionally, " they're talking about your decisions and actions. That's the way you'll mostly have seen the word "intention" used outside of philosophy. When people talk about "intentional states, " however, they mean something different. This...

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