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Volume 52 • Number 2

April 2015



The Arithmetic of Intention

by Anton Ford

Near the end of her book, Intention, G. E. M. Anscombe distinguishes two different ways of trying to explain what an intentional action is:

If one simply attends to the fact that many actions can be either intentional or unintentional, it can be quite natural to think that events which are characterisable as intentional or unintentional are a certain natural class, ‘intentional’ being an extra property which a philosopher must try to describe. In fact the term ‘intentional’ has reference to a form of description of events. What is essential to this form is displayed by the results of our enquiries into the question ‘Why?’

Anscombe here repudiates any account that attempts to describe an "extra property" in virtue of possessing which an event of someone’s doing something is an intentional action. It attests to the seeming naturalness of this kind of account that so much action theory in the last half-century has attempted to describe just such a property. According to what is now aptly called "the standard story of action," an intentional action is an event of bodily movement distinguished by the property of its having been caused by the agent’s mental states.

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ISSN: 2152-1123