• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.



Page history last edited by Victoria Yupangco 13 years, 2 months ago





An agent's intention is a good indicator of a future action and in general can be said to a derivative of their general belief and desire system.  For, to intend to do something is to one, desire to do that thing and two, have a network of beliefs about the thing their intentions concern and the belief that they can carry out the action.  The beliefs and desires of an agent are the propositional attitudes of the agent.   


The study of intentions is commonly thought of as a branch of FOLK PSYCHOLOGY.  The standard account of folk psychology is one where beliefs and desires, or propositional attitudes, of an agent express or in some views, cause their intentions.


 The two major branches of folk psychology are the engaged conception and the detached conception.  Which branch one follows depends on which means of investigating other minds is epistemically central.  Generally, the engaged or simulation, theorist will use his own mind as a basis for understanding other minds (Stueber, 2), while the detached or theory theorist will use external standards to investigate other minds (Stueber, 3).  Both views are theories of interpretation.  However, the engaged views is a model for understanding others' behaviour, but the detached view is seen as a way of predicting and/or explaining others' behaviour.  The detached and engaged approaches to folk-psychological investigations, provide unique tools for investigating the intentional system of human mind.


A detached view of intentions often requires the supposition that the agent who has intentions is a rational agent.  Rationality plays a key role in not only interpreting the intentions of an agent, but in understanding other minds.  Both Davidson and Dennett, who are advocates of the detached view, require that in order to interpret an agent's intentions the interpreter must assume that the agent is rational.  Davidson believes that an intentional system is part of a larger network of beliefs and desires which are necessarily logically and rationally structure (Davidson, 321), thus the intentions of an agent must also be logically and rationally structured.  


Proponents of the engaged conception such as Goldman or Stueber believe that successful explanation or prediction of an intentional system based on general theories deriving from logic or assumptions or normative claims of RATIONALITY are insufficient.  Furthermore, beliefs and desires are not mere causes of cognitive behaviours.  Goldman claims that Davidson or Dennett's views can lead to errors, for it is possible to ascribe false beliefs to the agent (Goldman, 164).  Furthermore, interpreters need not rely on normative laws or decision theories to correctly assess an agent's intentions (Goldman, 168).  Goldman is an advocates the SIMULATION THEORY, which is a branch of the engaged conception, and it claims that the interpreter simulates or an agents mind to understand his intentions by imagining themselves to be in the agent's shoes and then predict their future actions.  For, there is a regularity in people's behaviour, which reveals a common behavioural disposition in a social group (Goldman, 170).  


Of course there are a plethora of other methods used to explain the intentions of an agent.  Some social cognitive scientists like Goldie who claims that both the SIMULATION THEORY and THEORY-THEORY (a branch of the detached conception) rely to much on the belief and desire foundation; beliefs and desires is not central, redundant, and at times inadequate for explanation of intentions.  Goldie proposes that information found in a person's intentions may stem from external sources such as a person's individual character traits, general knowledge of emotions, or motives.


Despite which school a thinker belongs to, intentions must retain as a bundle of beliefs and desires found in an agent.  To intend to anything, before any action can be carried out, an agent must have a certain set of beliefs and desires.  Whether the beliefs and desires cause a person's intentions, are wholly used to explain or predict an agent's intentions, or not, is a debate over how central the beliefs and desires of an agent are in predicting or explaining intentions.  Perhaps the proponents of the detached conception place to much emphasis on rationality or normative claims, and those who follow the engaged conception, who use a more subjective method of interpretation, are scientifically “immature”, but the general agreement is that beliefs and desires play some role in the intentional system of an agent.


See Also:


Folk Psychology

Folk Psychology as Simulation

Folk Psychology as a Theory

Rationality in Interpretation

Intentional Stance






Davidson, D. (1982). Rational Animals. Dialectica, 36(4), 317-327.


Dennett, D.C. (1971). Intentional Systems. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(4), pp 87-106.


Goldie, P. (2007). There are Reasons and Reasons. In D. Hutto & M. Ratcliffe (Eds.), Folk

Psychology Re-Assessed (pp. 103-114). Dordrecht: Springer.


Goldman, A. I. (1989). Interpretation Psychologized. Mind & Language, 4(3), 161-185.


Stueber, K. R. (2006). Introduction, In Rediscovering Empathy: Agency, Folk Psychology, and the

Human Sciences. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. pp 1-31.




-  Stuart James Scott, University of Toronto

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.