The intentional or mental component of an action. The intention in action causes, and is contemporaneous with, the agent's bodily movement or state that is its condition of satisfaction. Introduced in Searle 1983. See also intentionality, prior intention, Background, phenomenological critique of representationalism, the will, intentional action.

The intention-in-action is a concept Searle deploys in his analysis of action (1983, pp. 83-98). For Searle, an action is "a causal and Intentional transaction between mind and the world" (1983, p. 88). Thus an action is composed of two parts: an intention, and a movement. The intentional component is, roughly, the mental and causal component that represents (or presents, to use the term Searle prefers when discussing the intention-in-action) conditions of satisfaction to be met by the appropriate movement. In cases of premeditated or deliberative action, the action is caused by what Searle terms a prior intention -- that is, an intention to act formed in advance of the action itself (see prior intention). But many if not most everyday actions are not premeditated and thus cannot be attributed to prior intentions. It is largely to account for these actions that the intention-in-action is invoked. For in contrast to the prior intention, the intention-in-action is not formed in advance of the action, but rather causes the act by representing its conditions of satisfaction on the fly, as it were.
The basic intentional content of the intention-in-action is characterized as consisting in self-referential causality. This is so because its success or satisfaction can come about only if it (and not some other force) is the cause of the movement (Searle 1983, p. 93) whose mental component it is. Thus for an action composed of bodily movement X and an accompanying intention in action, the content of the intention in action is
<that X be effected in carrying out this intention>
In a sense, the intention in action is a redescription of what otherwise might be called a volition, as O'Shaughnessy argues (1991, pp. 271-287) and Searle concedes (1991, pp. 298-299; cf 1983 p. 88).
As he does with intentionality generally, Searle analyzes the intention in action as having a direction of fit and a direction of causation. The direction of fit is described as world-to-mind; this means that in order for the intention to be successful, conditions in the world must conform to the conditions specified by the intention. (For the intention-in-action, the relevant conditions in the world are limited to the agent's bodily movements or states.) The direction of causation is mind-to-world, which simply follows from the fact that it is the intention-in-action that is the cause of the agent's movement. It should be noted that the causal domain of the intention-in-action extends only as far as the bodily movement of an action (Searle 1983, p. 95); it does not cover the overall goals or conditions that such movements are supposed to bring about. The intention-in-action is thus concerned with an action's local conditions of success only.
It has been argued, particularly in the anti-representationalist, phenomenological analysis of nondeliberate action associated with Hubert Dreyfus (see Phenomenological critique of representationalism), that the intention-in-action "overrepresentationalizes" action and that the sort of nondeliberative action the intention-in-action is designed to explain involves a skillful agent "absorbed" in activity and thus responding directly -- that is, without representational mediation -- to forces in the immediate internal and external environments (Wakefield and Dreyfus 1991, pp. 259-270). Searle's preferring to say that the intention-in-action presents, rather than represents, its conditions of satisfaction reflects the substance of this objection; for Searle, "presentation" does not carry the connotation of mediation that some associate with the term "representation" but rather implies a more direct access to what is represented (1983, p. 46). Still, a presentation is a representation (1983, p. 46), and Searle's account is a representationalist one.
Searle's answer is twofold. First, he claims that the intention-in-action presupposes and draws on a non-representational set of skills, capacities, and so forth, which he terms the Background (1983, pp. 143 ff; 1991, p. 293). But the Background by itself is not sufficient for successful action; rather, it "only functions when it is activated by genuine Intentional contents" (1991, p. 294). Second, he claims that the crucial point of the intention-in-action is that it presents causally self-referential conditions of satisfaction, and it doesn't matter what term is ultimately used to describe it (1991, p. 297). (It might also be argued that Dreyfus's objection carries force only if one accepts a narrow view of representationalism as necessarily involving reflection or deliberation.)
What is intuitively true -- and what both Searle and Dreyfus in effect agree on -- is that no matter how caught up we are in the flow of our activity, we do seem to have a grasp of whether or not our action is successful at the most local level. That is, we have the sense that our actions are what we want to be doing when we are doing them. And this raises an interesting question: perhaps the intention-in-action, rather than "overrepresentationalizing" action, instead _under_representationalizes it. For in order to specify local conditions of success, as the intention-in-action purports to do particularly with its world-to-mind direction of fit, the mental component of action may have to involve general information relevant to the action that is crucial to, and independent of, the strictly local conditions of bodily movement.
Consider that in order to experience an action as fitting, one must be able to recognize conditions in the world as fulfilling the requirements of a fitting action. Even if "the world" in this case consists only in the body's movements, it may well be that something of the activity the body is engaged in will play some role in the specification of those conditions, and therefore will be implicated in the mental component of the action. It may be, in fact, that the line between strictly local conditions of action and the relevant non-local conditions is a fuzzy one, and one that will complicate any attempt to to carve nondeliberate intentional action at its joints.
Daniel Barbiero