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Brentano introduced the concept of intentionality into modern philosophy

The concept of intentionality describes the ability of humans to relate to something (e.g. real or just imagined objects , properties or facts ). The concept can be ascribed to ancient, medieval and early modern theorists and in modern discussions mostly goes back to the philosopher and psychologist Franz Brentano . He had reintroduced the term in his work Psychology from the empirical standpoint . Through the work of Edmund Husserl , intentionality became a central concept in phenomenology .

In today's philosophical debates on the philosophy of mind , intentionality is often understood as a specific characteristic of the mental: If there is intentionality, then there is mental - and not just material and scientifically describable. The assumption of intentionality, as well as that of phenomenal consciousness or qualia , therefore represents a problem for materialism from the point of view of the representatives of the mental . However, opponents of this position manage without an assumption of the mental and hold intentionality, as well as perception and memory , explainable scientifically.

Intentionality according to Brentano

Intentional non-existence

The concept of intentionality is a philosophical technical term and is not synonymous with the everyday concept of intention as intention, nor with the semantic concept of intention . Brentano gives the classic definition:

"Every psychic phenomenon is characterized by what the scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (also probably mental) non-existence of an object, and what we, although in not entirely unambiguous terms, the relation to a content, the direction towards an object ( which / here is not to be understood as a reality), or what would be called immanent objectivity. Each contains something as an object in itself, although not each in the same way. Something is presented in the imagination, something is recognized or rejected in the judgment, loved in love, hated in hate , desired in desire, etc. This intentional non-existence is exclusively peculiar to psychic phenomena. No physical phenomenon shows anything like it. "

Brentano's thesis is that intentionality is a property of the mental that can be described with the phrases “relationship to a content” or “direction to an object”. An example can clarify this connection: The thought that there is still milk in the refrigerator relates to the objects refrigerator and milk and the fact that there is still milk in the refrigerator. By referring to a fact, the thought can also be true or false.

According to Chrudzimski, Brentano is said to have developed this theory further in his lectures into a more complex "mediator" theory. After 1900 Brentano is said to have regretted the introduction of the term “intentional inexistence”.

Intentional definition of the mental

Brentano also took the view that intentionality was the defining characteristic of the mental. There were no non-mental entity that possesses the characteristic of intentionality, and conversely, not a mental entity that does not possess the characteristic of intentionality. This claim is often questioned in today's philosophy.

It is argued that there are also non-intentional mental states. For example, a general malaise or general euphoria is entirely mental, but does not have to relate to anything. However, all of these non-intentional mental states would have the characteristic of qualia . Nowadays the following is often suggested: Intentionality and qualia are each sufficient , but not necessary for the existence of the mental. However, every mental state must at least have intentionality or a qualitative sensation as a property.

Intentionality according to Husserl

Intentionality according to Husserl
Building an experience of consciousness

Through reflection , instead of the things, values, purposes, etc., we grasp the corresponding subjective experiences in which we become aware. They are also called "phenomena". Their most general essential character is to be "consciousness-of", "appearance-of" the respective things; they are "intentional" experiences. The term derived from scholasticism for the basic character of being as consciousness, as the appearance of something, is intentionality.

Edmund Husserl takes over the basic meaning of intentionality (see above) from F. Brentano, one of his teachers, and develops it into an independent, central concept in phenomenology through numerous analyzes of examples.

For Husserl, "consciousness" consists in the total inventory of intentional experiences of a subject. Husserl describes the intentional experiences as acts ( to avoid equivocations ), e.g. B. Perceptions, memories, feelings, etc. Husserl later differentiates the general intentionality of consciousness into noesis ("cogito", modes of intent, intentional act) and noema ("cogitatum", the intended, intentional object).

Non-intentional sensation data, known as sensual hyle , experience objectification in the consciousness in a special mental process, which Husserl calls apperception in the sense of apprehension, interpretation, and interpretation, and are thus constituted as intentional objects. Intentional objects or intentional objects are to be understood as the reference points of an execution of consciousness. The intended object is neither an immanent part of consciousness itself nor contained in it. Intentionality affects not only really existing objects, but also imaginations, memories, etc. Not all experiences are intentional, e.g. B. color or tone sensations, but moments, founded in an intentional overall act.

The meaning intention is the reference to something objective with a meaning, e.g. B. Tree ("think" something as something). If one does not know the meaning of an expression, the meaning intention is initially empty of intuition; meaning fulfillment occurs when what is supposed is clearly confirmed. Evidence is given if meaning intention and meaning fulfillment are covered .

In the theory of intentionality, the concept of the horizon occupies a central role. If we look at a tree, we only get one perspective of the object. This individual perception leads to anticipations, which indicate a perceptual context and also contribute to absent, "shadowed" perspectives of the tree ( appresentation ; every perception includes an "interpretation"). The environment remains unthematically in the background, but in the further course of perception of presence can come. These potential implementation possibilities are called "horizon intentionalities".

Awareness of time is fundamental to intentionality. Only in the flow of acts of original impression - retention - protention units can a related experience arise , such as B. a melody, constitute in consciousness. Longitudinal intentionality is the constant "sinking down" and modification of the successive retentions. The retention binds a primordial impression to the flow of experience. The same applies to the protentions, in which, however, the intentions remain open and are expected. But it is not about empty intentions, these are references to retention-retention chains, as in the case of memory. With the term cross-intentionality of retention, Husserl describes the content-related directionality of consciousness on the same object in the time-constituting process phases.

For an objective validity of the world , the egological phenomenology must be expanded by intersubjectivity , since the intentional givens exist for every person. The transcendental ego is not solely responsible for the constitution of the objective world; it must be seen in relation to foreign experiences, of which it is a correlate.

Heidegger's criticism of Husserl

Transcendence of existence

Martin Heidegger rejected Husserl's concept of intentionality. Intentionality can only focus on objects that are presented as present. When Husserl speaks of the fact that sensual perception exists in the “present”, then at the moment of perception all time is switched off. This, according to Heidegger, must also appear that way if one starts from an intentional approach, because this does not make it possible to subsequently include time in the understanding of a phenomenon. Heidegger, on the other hand, reverses the relationship and gives priority to the temporality of Dasein: The relationship between Dasein (human) and the world is always temporal. Only afterwards can one disregard this fundamental relationship and then come to a concept of intentionality that no longer includes time.

Heidegger's criticism of the concept of intentionality is related to his criticism of traditional ontologies, insofar as these objects are viewed separately from their reference context. (This reference context, the u. A. Determined by basal end relationships, Heidegger calls the world .) What , for example, a hammer is determined only through this relationship. (Heidegger called to -Bezügen of handiness instead extantness and one at hand stuff rather than an actual thing.) In this context, only the hammer is understandable as such: as a stuff that used to hammers to build such a house and so to offer protection from storms. This world as a whole is not something that is assembled from individual parts only afterwards, but ontologically precedes what is at hand by assigning them their meaning in advance, as it were. Conversely, existence is always related to this whole when it takes care of a single thing. Because it always transcends the individual , Heidegger also speaks of the transcendence of existence . The exceeding of the individual object in relation to the whole is to be understood in terms of both time and meaning. It is a condition that individual beings can encounter and be understood. The intentional grasping of a being is therefore only possible on the basis of this transcendence - intentionality is a “special case” of the transcendence of existence. Heidegger gives as a thesis for how the wrong setting of intentionality as a primary reference to the world could arise that the idea of ​​a subject still resonates here who faces the world in a cognitive manner and perceives individual unrelated objects in space and time.

The example of the hammer, on the other hand, shows that things are integrated into a reference context and that this can only be understood in terms of time: the hammer is only to be understood with regard to future use. But this future is not "something", not an object in the world, to which one can focus. The future is also not a “thought”. This, too, would objectify them so that one could focus on them as an object. The “world” itself occurs as an interlacing of the present and the future in human existence. Heidegger characterizes this structural connection between the world and Dasein by designating Dasein as care and thus placing the practical handling of the world in the foreground, which is only followed by a theoretical-intentional one.

Basic mood as a non-intentional reference to the world

Similarly, a phenomenon like boredom cannot - as Husserl postulated this generally for all objects - be observed as an object in the stream of consciousness. Although we are when we're bored to things (that is, objects) directed to pass the time. But the distress that we feel in boredom cannot, according to Heidegger, be understood as being directed towards an object. Much more moods are at work here. Heidegger therefore opposes the concept of intentionality with a basic mood ; H. the fact that man has always been mood-wise related to the world as a whole . Only because we are always somehow in tune with the world does the individual (intentionally grasped) things concern us. A single “incident” does not have a meaning as a single factum brutum, but only in relation to the whole is it our concern.

Defense of Husserl's concept of intentionality against Heidegger

The Japanese phenomenologist Shinji Hamauzu defends Husserl against Heidegger by including aspects that Heidegger in his opinion overlooked in Husserl.

Intentionality as a problem for reductionist theories

In the current philosophy of mind , the concept of intentionality is particularly discussed as a problem for materialism . Materialistic theories assume that mental states can also be traced back to physical states. Now, however, mental states often have the property of intentionality, and it seems to be unclear how a physical state can have this property.

In materialistic theories, thoughts are traced back to neural events. Critics of materialism argue, on the other hand, that if a thought corresponds to a process in the brain, then this process must also be intentional. However, this is precisely what is very implausible.

From the materialistic side, the reply is that triggers for actions, meanings, reasons and truth can also be explained without mental states, since they also occur in the language of machines.

Intentionality as an idea based on social reflection

The psychologist Wolfgang Prinz put forward a comprehensive and empirically founded theory, according to which during child development the idea of ​​one's own intentions grows from the observation of other people. He called this process of perception social mirroring. The observing child learns to understand that other people are acting in a purposeful manner and learns to ascribe intentions to these actions ( mentalization ). At a certain stage of development, a child is able to transfer the idea that other people have intentions to themselves. From then on it is able to experience its own intentionality. According to this, social perception, memory and combination are the roots of intentionality. Since these can be explained scientifically, the same applies to intentionality.

See also


Literature on individual topics can be found in the sources

Intentionality with Husserl
  • Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger - Phenomenology (1927). ed. by Renato Cristin Berlin: Duncker and Humblot, 1999 (Philosophical Writings; Vol. 34) ISBN 3-428-09296-1
  • Verena Mayer: Edmund Husserl. CH Beck Munich 2009 ISBN 9783406586880
  • Peter Prechtl: Edmund Husserl for an introduction. Junius Verlag GmbH Hamburg 1998 ISBN 3-88506-369-7
  • Ferdinand Fellmann : Phenomenology as an introduction. Junius Verlag GmbH Hamburg 2006 ISBN 978-3-88506-616-3
  • Dan Zahavi: Husserl's phenomenology. Working group of 16 publishers 2003/2009 ISBN 978-3-16-149450-5 (Mohr Siebeck)
  • Dictionary of phenomenological terms. Edited by Helmut Vetter Felix Meiner Verlag Hamburg 2004 ISBN 3-7873-1689-2
  • Husserl Lexicon. Ed. Hans-Helmut Gander WBG Darmstadt 2010 ISBN 978-3-534-16493-6
  • Daniel O. Dahlstrom: Introduction to Phenomenological Research , Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.
  • John J. Drummond: The structure of intentionality, in: Donn Welton (Ed.): The new Husserl: a critical reader , Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003, pp. 65-92.
  • Michael Dummett : The Seas of Language , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Peter Simons: Edmund Husserl The intentionality of consciousness. In: Ansgar Beckermann (Ed.): Classics of Philosophy Today . Stuttgart: Reclam, 2004, pp. 581-600.
  • Wolfgang Künne : Edmund Husserl: Intentionalität, in: J. Speck (Hrsg.): Basic problems of the great philosophers: Philosophy of the modern times , Vol. 4, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986.
Intentionality in Heidegger (and Husserl)
  • Archana Barua: Husserl, Heidegger and the Intentionality Question , in: Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy 7 (2003), pp. 44-59
  • Rudolf Bernet: Husserl and Heidegger on Intentionality and Being, in: Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 21/2 (1990), pp. 136-52.
  • Taylor Carman: Heidegger's Analytic: Interpretation, Discourse, and Authenticity in “Being and Time” , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003
  • Carleton Christensen: Heidegger's Representationalism , in: Review of Metaphysics 51 (1997), pp. 77-103.
  • Steven Crowell: Subjectivity: Locating the First-Person in Being and Time, in: Inquiry 44 (2001), pp. 433-454.
  • Daniel O. Dahlstrom: Heidegger's Transcendentalism, in: Research in Phenomenology 35 (2005).
  • Hubert Dreyfus : Being-in-the-World , Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991
  • Hubert Dreyfus : Heidegger's critique of the Husserl / Searle account of intentionality, in: Social Research 93/60 (1993), 17ff.
  • H. Hall: Intentionality and World: Division I of Being and Time in: Charles Guignon (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993
  • Burt C. Hopkins: Intentionality In Husserl And Heidegger: The Problem Of The Original Method And Phenomenon Of Phenomenology , Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1993, ISBN 0-7923-2074-3
  • JN Mohanty: Intentionality, in: Hubert Dreyfus , Mark Wrathall (Eds.): A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism , Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell 2006, ISBN 978-1-4051-1077-8 .
  • Dermot Moran : Heidegger's Critique of Husserl's and Brentano's Accounts of Intentionality , in: Inquiry 43 (2000), pp. 39-66.
  • Mark Okrent: Heidegger's Pragmatism: Understanding, Being, and the Critique of Metaphysics , Ithaca, NY 1998
  • Frederick A. Olafson: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Mind , New Haven, CO: Yale University Press 1987.
  • Thomas Sheehan: Heidegger's Philosophy of Mind, in: G. Floistad (Ed.): Contemporary Philosophy of Mind: A New Survey , Vol. 4, Philosophy of Mind, The Hague: Nijhoff, 1984, pp. 287-318.
  • Mark A. Wrathall: Intentionality without Representation: Heidegger's Account of Perception, in: Philosophy Today 42 (1999), 182-89.
Other literature
  • Elisabeth Baumgartner: Intentionality: History of Concepts and the Application of Concepts in Psychology , Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1985.
  • Dominik Perler: Theories of Intentionality in the Middle Ages , Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2004. 436 p. (Review: Flasch, FAZ of February 16, 2004)
  • Arkadiusz Chrudzimski: Intentionality, time awareness and intersubjectivity: studies on phenomenology from Brentano to Ingarden , Frankfurt: ontos (review: Helmut Klemm: Außenwelt der Innenwelt, FAZ of February 22, 2006, No. 45, page N3)
  • Armin Stock: Intentionality and Ideo-Motorik - An action-theoretical-psychological synthesis , Lengerich / Berlin / Vienna: Pabst Science Publishers, 2004, ISBN 978-3-89967-118-6
  • Tobias Schlicht: A step model of intentionality, in: P. Spät (ed.): To the future of philosophy of mind , Paderborn: mentis, 2008, pp. 59–91.
Recent debates
  • Ulrike Haas-Spohn (ed.): Intentionality between subjectivity and relation to the world , Paderborn: mentis, 2003 anthology with essays on the current debate

(More recent literature from Jacob, Caston and Chalmers, see web links)

Web links

Wiktionary: Intentionality  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. ^ Victor Caston:  Intentionality in Ancient Philosophy. In: Edward N. Zalta (Ed.): Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy .
  2. ^ Franz Brentano : Psychology from the empirical point of view. 1874.
  3. Brentano, op.cit., I, p. 124, italics added
  4. Arkadiusz Chrudzimski: Brentano, Husserl and Ingarden on intentional objects (PDF; 150 kB)
  5. For example by John R. Searle, in: Intentionalität . Frankfurt a. M .: Suhrkamp 1987, p. 16f.
  6. Cf. Edmund Husserl: Logical investigations 1st ed. (1901) Bd. II, p. 588 u. 620.
  7. Cf. Martin Heidegger: Being and time . Tübingen 2001, p. 363.
  8. Cf. Martin Heidegger: Vom Wesen des Grund . GA 9, p. 135.
  9. Cf. Martin Heidegger: Being and time . Tübingen 2001, p. 366.
  10. See Martin Heidegger: GA Volume 29/30, p. 136ff.
  11. Shinji Hamauzu: On the phenomenology of the invisible: Husserl and Heidegger , in: Heinrich Hüni, Peter Trawny (eds.): The appearing world . Festschrift for Klaus Held , Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2002, section 2–3.
  12. The classic is here: John Searle : Intentionality. An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, ISBN 0521273021
  13. ^ Paul Churchland : Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes. In: Journal of Philosophy. 1981, pp. 67-90.
  14. Wolfgang Prinz : Open Minds: The Social Making of Agency and Intentionality , MIT Press 2012, 358 pp. ISBN 026230094X , pp. XVI and 225–244 (German translation by Jürgen Schröder: Selbst im Spiegel. The social construction of subjectivity . Suhrkamp , Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-518-58594-8 , 502 pages)