Philosophical Studies

, Volume 166, Issue 3, pp 511–527 | Cite as

The volitive and the executive function of intentions

  • Christoph Lumer


Many philosophers of action, including Bratman and Mele, conceive intentions functionally, as executive states: intentions are mental states that represent an action and tend to cause this action. In the philosophical tradition (e.g. for Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Leibniz, Kant) another function of intentions, which may be called “volitive”, played a much more prominent role: intentions are mental states that represent what kind of actions we want and prefer to be realised and thus, in a possibly rational way, synthesise our motivational, desiderative, and perhaps affective as well as cognitive attitudes towards this action. This paper argues that intentions must fulfil both functions and then develops a concept of ‘intention’ that integrates both functions. One reason for including the volitive function in the definition of ‘intention’ is that only via this function the value of actions as such is realised, namely to enable the person, the kernel of the self to express herself and to control the world. Various forms of dissociation of the two functions are discussed and a proposal how to deal with such cases in the definition of ‘intention’ is developed.


Intention Functions of intentions Executive function Volitive function Dissociation of volition and execution Michael Bratman Alfred Mele 



I would like to thank an anonymous referee for very valuable suggestions and the participants at the presentation of this paper during the XXII. Deutscher Kongress für Philosophie in Munich for their inspiring discussion.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze Sociali, Politiche e CognitiveUniversità di SienaSienaItaly

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