I have been reading G.E.M Anscombe's book Intention and one of the key concepts is the difference between predictions and expressions of intention but I feel as though I am failing to grasp it correctly. My understanding was that the difference lies in the justification we give when questioned regarding an action. A prediction will be justified by evidence whereas an expression of intention will be justified with reasons. Is this what is meant, or am I missing the point.

Thank you.


You are right ...

The problem is posed by Anscombe §2 discussing the "intuitively clear" difference between :

"I am going to be sick" (that express a prediction) and "I am going to take a walk" (that express an intention).

The ground for a prediction is an "estimate of the future" while the ground for an intention is a "reason for acting" (§50).

To say that an expression is an expression of intention is to say that it could be justified by a reason for acting (will), and not by a reason for thinking true (evidence).

When I make an estimate of the future, if what I say is false then this implies either that I was lying or that I made a mistake.

An expression of intention for the future is false if I do not do what I said.

For more, you can see :


Whilst Mauro's answer details helpfully how Anscombe derived the definitions she did, it does not perhaps answer the second part of your question, which is the "point". The reason why Anscombe made such a distinction is that she was trying to reject determinism to an extent and considered the intentional reason to be a thing which is known without observation. Thus the distinction is required to support her position.

There are flaws in the argument, however, which may explain your uncertainty. To take Anscombe's example of the man raising his arm up and down. If an outside observer had access to the pre-motor cortex of the agent's brain, they would be able to deduce with absolute certainty that the agent was about to raise their arm. We could extend this beyond current neuroscience, but still within the realm of possibility, to Anscombe's shopping list example. If an outside observer had access to the neurons which represented the agent's image of the state of their store cupboard, and those containing the concept of the desired state, then they could derive a shopping list of intentions in no different a way to that in which they derived their shopping list of actions. We then end up with a description of an identical item of knowledge which is different depending on whose brain it is in, which is un-generalisable.

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