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A Medieval View of Practical Intentionality

Intentio in Aquinas’s Psychology of Action

Zurück zum Heft: Phänomenologische Forschungen 2018-2


Intentio is a widespread concept in the writings of Thomas Aquinas (1224/5–1274). This article focuses on its use in the description and explanation of human action because Aquinas is the first author to elaborate a coherent conception of practical intentionality in the history of Western philosophy. The analysis shows that his account is characterized by five distinctive features: Practical intentionality is (1) an active striving toward a causally relevant intentional object (i. e., a goal), which is not ‘in the mind’, (2) a volitional state of mind rather than a distinct mental event, (3) action-guiding because it is a principle of concrete human actions which realize it, (4) essentially tied up with rationality, which is needed for bridging the operational distance to the final goal by deliberation on the means conducive to it, (5) potentially complex – allowing for a plurality of simultaneous intentions – but at the same time unified in the hierarchical ordering of means and ends. The article also relates these features to modern discussions of intentionality in phenomenology and in analytic philosophy