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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V019-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Intentionality is the mind’s capacity to direct itself on things. Mental states like thoughts, beliefs, desires, hopes (and others) exhibit intentionality in the sense that they are always directed on, or at, something: if you hope, believe or desire, you must hope, believe or desire something. Hope, belief, desire and other mental states which are directed at something, are known as intentional states. Intentionality in this sense has only a peripheral connection to the ordinary ideas of intention and intending. An intention to do something is an intentional state, since one cannot intend without intending something; but intentions are only one of many kinds of intentional mental states.

The terminology of intentionality derives from the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages, and was revived by Brentano in 1874. Brentano characterized intentionality in terms of the mind’s direction upon an object, and he also claimed that it is the intentionality of mental phenomena that distinguishes them from physical phenomena. These ideas of Brentano’s provide the background to twentieth-century discussions of intentionality, in both the phenomenological and analytic traditions. Among these discussions, we can distinguish two general projects. The first is to characterize the essential features of intentionality. For example, is intentionality a relation? If it is, what does it relate, if the object of an intentional state need not exist in order to be thought about? The second is to explain how intentionality can occur in the natural world. How can biological creatures be in states that exhibit intentionality? The aim of this second project is to explain intentionality in nonintentional terms.

Citing this article:
Crane, Tim. Intentionality, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V019-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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