I'd like to know all of the definitions of intention in philosophy.

Where can I find them?

I've found just this article which I couldn't understand much of it.

P.S. Cause I'm a computer science student and have done almost nothing before about philosophy, I'd be glad if the sources or answers are in simple words.

Thanks in advance.


Just to clarify more: I'm currently doing research about intention recognition in pervasive(ubiquitous) computing area. Actually I want to know what should be a computer like to recognize one's (human) intention without observing any behavior, just from the brain itself.

As an example I want to know when somebody picks up a pen, what's he going to do with that pen? Is he going to write sth, put it in somewhere else or give it to someone?

I want to know what happens to our brain when we intend to do sth? The mental activity during intending to do sth matters to me. So I can analyze this process in the computer world.

Whatever is mentioned in this EDIT part, is just to clarify the context. I don't want you to answer these questions. I just want one or more definitions of the term intention. I think it's defined somewhere in philosophic books, isn't it?

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    What is the context of your query? Why do you want to know about intention (or intentionality)? If the SEP is too dense for you, it is going to take a lot of work for someone to unpack it into simpler terms; it would be a lot easier to do that if we knew what you were looking for. – Michael Dorfman Aug 6 '12 at 15:17
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    Perhaps you are reading that article in the wrong frame of mind? Many philosophical texts need to be read slowly and reflectively, while keeping track of what you understand and what you don't, and what seems supported well and what is supported poorly or not at all. There are not that many specialized terms that render it incomprehensible; it's usually the reflection that's needed. That said, the Philosopher's Tool Kit is a great book for terms; see a local library (hopefully!) or e.g. barnesandnoble.com/w/philosophers-toolkit-julian-baggini/… – Rex Kerr Aug 6 '12 at 16:14
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    @Michael Dorfman: I'm doing a research about intention recognition in pervasive(ubiquitous) computing context.Actually I want to know what should be a computer like to recognize one's (human) intention? – Zahra Ezati Aug 6 '12 at 20:32
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    The answers you are looking for, Cogsci may have. – stoicfury Sep 6 '12 at 20:05
  • @stoicfury - Once I searched the keyword "intention" there and unfortunately, I got just 6 results which none of them was related to my issue. Do you think I should ask this exact question there? – Zahra Ezati Sep 6 '12 at 20:41

From your response to Michael's comment, I think I see what you're looking for, and why it's confusing. There's no current "list" of meanings for the word "intention", as you'll probably find that such a list will be exactly as long as the number of philosophers there are. However, there are two broad senses in which the word gets thrown around, and it's clear you want only one of them.

Most of us here at this site, when hearing "intention" will immediately think of intentionality, which is an unfortunate piece of philosophical jargon that gets newcomers very confused. I've heard it said that the word is just a poor translation from German (Husserl's word was "Intentionalität"), but regardless of it's origin, the term corresponds roughly to the actual, subjective perception of a thing's qualities: the "redness" of the color red, or the intense smelliness of an acrid smell. The idea being reached for is what a given perception is about- that is, the perception's content. For this reason some people replace the term "intentionality" with "about-ness".

I'm fairly certain from your response that you want nothing to do with intentionality. Instead, it's clear that you want a way of recognizing what it means for someone to intend something, in the way that you intended a certain meaning by your question here. If I'm right, and I've successfully accomplished what you want your program to achieve - that is, to recognize what you intend - then I'd hazard to say that what you're looking for isn't intention per se, but a philosophical description of will. At least, it seems to me that you're looking for a way of capturing the algorithm we all supposedly use to recognize when someone else has a desire for some outcome, and is making an effort of some kind to acheive that outcome. The notion that "will" captures in philosophic discussion is a much better fit than "intention" for your search.

-- Edited --

I'm trying to separate the verb to intend from the noun intention in order to distinguish between the subjective, first-person sense of having an intention towards a thing (which is to say that person intends a thing), and the objective, observable state of an organism's brain while that intention is being had. To recognize the subjective, mental intention of another person is either impossible or currently unrealizable, so the latter sense of there being an observable part of an intention must be what we're talking about. To clarify, take the following cases:

  1. Andy intends to raise his hand the moment Barbara stops speaking.
  2. Andy shuffles in his seat as he waits for Barbara to stop speaking.

In the first example, there's no indication given of Andy having an intention, other than that I've stated it. Andy has the experience of intending to raise his arm, but how would any observer recognize what he intends without something like the second example occurring? Only if there's a physical signifier of Andy's intention, whether that signal is shuffling impatiently in his chair, or the more subtle neural activity of Andy's brain, can "intention recognition" occur.

Many people argue that there must be a unique physical signifier for every experience, where intending a thing is just one such experience. Whether that's true or not is a messy debate. On the other hand, we all engage in a much more mundane form of "intention recognition" by announcing our intentions through speech and writing. It's not a perfect system: bullshit still abounds, misleading people with regards to what people actually intend.

  • What's the difference between "...to recognize what you intend" and "intention recognition"? I can't understand why you're trying not to use the word intention here? – Zahra Ezati Sep 7 '12 at 21:14
  • @Ezati - I was trying to get away from the word "intention" because it's confusing, but as it's still unclear, let's try an example with fictional people. – Ryder Sep 7 '12 at 22:58
  • Why don't you try to clarify what you mean by "intention", and we'll try to address it in a little more detail. – Ryder Sep 7 '12 at 23:07
  • I edited my question. Hope the issue is more clarified now – Zahra Ezati Sep 8 '12 at 12:50
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    It is, and Stoicfury's absolutely correct. What you're looking for is in the domain of cognitive science, and only historically philosophical now. I wish I had the perspicacity to've caught it sooner. – Ryder Sep 9 '12 at 21:01

How philosophy define "intention"?

Consciousness has two possibilities:

  1. Aware of something. It's function to perceive differences. Further it leads us to thinking on something.

  2. Feeling on something. It's function to put us on focusing on something. It has relation with emotions.

What we are doing must be in line with at least our emotions and possibly our thinking.

  • But eventually, what we think it's necessary to be fulfilled, it's merely because it has relation with fulfillment to our emotion of specific feeling. See decision making by emotions.

First we have thinking or emotions, and further we have necessity to get what we think it's necessary or to get what emotions force us to do something.

Our necessity is our intentional to do something in line with at least our emotions and possibly our thinking. We can see our intentional when:

  • Our thinking lead our emotions to a boiling point, where it forces us to do something, or ..

  • when our emotion level itself (without thinking) somehow reach a boiling point, where it forces us to do something.

Therefore, there are many kind of intentional:

  • It's intentional based on our necessity that can be traced back to our thinking

    • It can be an intentional to do something now
    • It can be an intentional to do something in the future
    • It can be an intentional to do something in any possible ways as configured by our thinking.
  • It's intentional based on our necessity that can be traced back to our emotions

    • It can be an intentional to do something to fulfill our feelings, whether now or for the future
    • It can be an intentional to do something in any possible ways as forced by our emotions

Different level of emotions or how we think could lead us to different level of intentional:

  • Most popular term related to intentional is "I will". It's when our desires or our thinking is not enough to create a strong intentional.
  • Most popular term related to intentional is "I want". It's when our desires or our thinking is one step ahead from previous level
  • Most popular term related to intentional is "I need". It's when our desires (from subconscious or conditioning) is strongly dominate our conscious, or our thinking assert there is an imbalance that must be solved.
  • Most popular term related to intentional is "I insist". It's when our desires (from subconscious or conditioning) is almost definitely dominate our conscious, or when our thinking assert there is thread must be solved.

If there is intentional, then there is strong desire that can be detected by our consciousness. Whether it can be detected by:

  • Aware of something (consequences) as necessity (at boiling point), or
  • We are focusing on specific feelings and we want to prolong our feelings.


  • What is intentional?

    • When we are aware of consequences as necessity to be fulfilled (with different levels of fulfillment), it's the moment we realize there is intentional.
  • But further this intentional doesn't have to (couldn't) be fulfilled if somehow our thinking or our emotions are not at the boiling point to force us to do something, or there are obstacles.

Hopefully my understanding about intentional may be used as comparison to further understanding another definition about intention.

I'd like to know all of the definitions of intention in philosophy.

Where can I find them?

See intentional from IEP. Or use keyword "intentional" on IEP.

  • You are misusing the word nor. You probably mean or, but I am not sure. You repeatedly wrote things like our thinking nor our emotions, but that usage cannot be correct, so I am not at all sure what you are trying to convey. (If you do mean nor as in (A nor B) iff (not-A and not-B), then when written out in English text it is prefaced with neither: "neither A nor B".) – Rex Kerr Aug 7 '12 at 17:25
  • @RexKerr, yes thank you to remind me. I mean (and or only). I already edited to avoid misleading. If someone has abbreviation on this, please you may tell us, and if you found same thing like this, please don't hesitate to remind me. Further, i will make correction – Seremonia Aug 7 '12 at 18:10
  • "and or only" is not a commonly used construct in English. If you mean any of A, B, or both, then "or" is fine. If you mean B or A and B but not A alone, then "at least B and possibly A" is a clear way to express the thought; after the first time, you could then say "B/A" and people would (probably) understand that you were referring to your longer construct. – Rex Kerr Aug 7 '12 at 18:17
  • @RexKerr, i already edited using "at least B and possibly A", thanks :) – Seremonia Aug 7 '12 at 18:39

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