According to an idea which is widespread among philosophers, linguistic entities derive their intentionality from the intentionality of mental entities by virtue of some relation between them. Typically, it is some kind of intention on the speaker’s part – e.g., an intention to produce in the hearer a belief with a certain content – that is supposed to endow words with content. This paper argues that the concept of the derivation of content from one entity to another, if understood realistically, is flawed: derived intentionality, I will argue, is merely ascribed intentionality, not a real property of its possessor (one which is independent of any stance or interpretation). Irrealistic-ascriptivist senses are suggested for the ideas of content derivation, of original intentionality, and of the mind as the source of linguistic (and other forms of non-mental) intentionality. Thus, endorsing the idea that mental intentionality is the source of non-mental intentionality need not tempt one to intentional realism. In an intentional irrealistic framework, what forms of intentionality are original and what are derived is a deeply contingent matter, determined by our practice(s) of content ascription. But while intentional irrealism accommodates all those ideas, this paper defends “content-derivation irrealism” but not thoroughgoing intentional irrealism – the idea that there is real original (that is, un-derived) intentionality is not ruled out. Still, assuming that some entities possess real intentionality, what can make them endow intentionality upon other entities is also our practice of content ascription.
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