In my research, I have built and deployed a developmental theory of intention to explain future-directed intention, acting with an intention, practical knowledge, and the distinctive role intention plays in human lives. My chief research goal is to refine and extend this theory to better understand ethics and the mind.

The Want

Long before there's a cherry, there's a cherry under development. Actions too can be under development.

The Intention

When an action under development reaches its first major stage of development, it is an intention. Like when a cherry under development is a bud.

The Attempt

When an action under development develops beyond an intention, it becomes an attempt. It is not quite a mature action and doesn't yet manifest the features we typically associate with the action.

The Doing

When an action under development is mature, it is not yet fully-developed (or ripe), but it does manifest typical features. This is what we often call 'an action'.

I have constructed a novel theory of intention, according to which an intention is not a mental state but an action at a certain developmental stage. Roughly, intention is to action as tadpole is to frog. Just as a tadpole is a frog at a certain developmental stage, an intention to bake bread (e.g.) is a bread-baking at a certain developmental stage. This means that intention is a kind of action, not something over and above and behind it.

I argue that cognitivism, according to which an intention is a belief, cannot adequately explain future-directed intention. On such a view, forming a future-directed intention inevitably turns out to be irrational. Further, conservatism, according to which an intention is a state, cannot adequately explain acting with an intention. On such a view, the intention is something of a distinct kind from the action. Therefore, either the conservative must claim that the intention causes the action, which leads to a pernicious series of counterexamples and inevitable circularity, or the conservative claims that the intention stands in some sui generis, irreducibly teleological relation to the action, which is woefully mysterious.

Positively, I argue that a theory according to which an intention is a kind of action can avoid these problem. On such a view, we can say that acting with an intention is acting as a part of a wider action. Thus, the relation that stands between the intention and the action is that between whole and part. Such a relation is perfectly ordinary and far from mysterious. Furthermore, we can say that forming a future-directed intention does not involve forming a belief, thus avoiding the charge of irrationality.

Although this theory can avoid these problems, it faces a number of objections.  Briefly, if intention is action, it seems to follow that if an agent intends to do something, she is doing it. And yet, an agent can intend to do A while not doing A: she may be merely preparing to do A, or not taking any steps toward the doing of A, or the doing of A may be impossible. My developmental theory meets these objections. On my view, if an agent intends to do A, she is not necessarily doing A. The doing of A is an action of type A at its mature or adult developmental stage. When an agent merely intends to do A but is not doing A, this is because her action is immature but nevertheless in progress. Thus, intention is a kind of action, but in particular, an action at a certain developmental stage.