Analysis of human intentionality as explained by Michael Tomasello.

Essay by dubbsCollege, UndergraduateA+, October 2003

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Michael Tomasello's problem that he wants to solve is to explain difference between humans and other primates in evolutionary closeness that allows humans to be radically different from non-human primates. Tomasello begins with the premise that humans are evolutionary close to other primates in two ways (2). Firstly, the evolutionary change Tomasello seeks occurred in the last 200,000 to 40,000 years, based on dating of Homo sapiens. This time is considered to be very short when compared to millions of years of evolution. Secondly, the genetic makeup of humans is nearly 99% similar to chimpanzees. This notes that little has changed between humans and other primates, yet humans live such different lives. The crux of the problem now becomes apparent; Too little time has passed and too little has changed genetically to explain the huge difference seen between humans and other primates.

Tomasello arrives at the conclusion that the huge difference is the result of a small evolutionary change, "...

the ability of individual organisms to understand conspecifics as beings like themselves who have intentional and mental lives like their own" (5). The intentional understanding allows a human to learn through its conspecifics through recognition of the conspecifics' feelings and attitudes.

This intentionality factors into the role of communication. Non-intentional animals communicate in an effort to change the physical world. The purpose is to make imperative statements only and not to communicate with conspecifics. However, an intentional animal communicates knowing that conspecifics can process the communication and respond. Instead of making just imperative statements, intentional animals can make declarative statements as well as imperatives.

As a result of this evolutionary change, Tomasello reasons that new cognitive skills developed (2). First, humans began to use tools, eventually progressing to modern day manufacturing. Next, people started to communicate with symbols,