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Intention, Primary and Secondary

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Abstract

The term “intention” was introduced into the philosophical vocabulary, with the meaning we nowadays attribute to it, during the twelfth century as the term used to translate each of two Arabic words. In most cases, medieval philosophers use “intention” as synonymous with “concept,” so that the answer that a philosopher gives to the question of an intention’s ontological status follows from his resolution of the nature of a concept. Some philosophers take intentions as distinct from the acts of cognition that originate them, while some others prefer to equate intentions to those acts. The distinction between first and second intentions traces back to Avicenna, who speaks of logic as a science dealing with second intentions as applied to first intentions. Roughly speaking, first intentions are concepts of extramental things (for example, man), while second intentions are concepts of concepts (for example, species). During the thirteenth century, such a distinction is paired up with the grammatical distinction between names of first and second imposition (such as “man” and “name,” respectively), which has its roots in Priscian, while later on the distinction between first and second intentions overlaps with that between abstract and concrete intentions. By “concrete intentions” most medieval philosophers refer to things qua cognized, while by “abstract intentions” they either refer to the mind’s cognitive acts of cognizing things or to the cognitive relation things bear to the mind. Thus, at the beginning of fourteenth century the picture is more complicated and raises different questions according to whether first or second intentions are discussed. High medieval philosophers focus on these different kinds of intentions and deal with two major issues: first, the foundation of first and second intentions and second, the order of causality and predication holding between first and second intentions.

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Amerini, F. (2011). Intention, Primary and Secondary. In: Lagerlund, H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9729-4_244

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