intentional action
 
 
People normally distinguish between behaviors that are performed ‘intentionally’ and those that are performed ‘unintentionally.’ But philosophers have found it quite difficult to explain precisely what the distinction amounts to. At first glance, it may appear that an action can only be performed intentionally if the agent had an intention to perform it, but even this seemingly trivial characterization has been remarkably controversial. See action; intention-in-action; prior intention.
 

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People normally distinguish between behaviors that are performed ‘intentionally’ and those that are performed ‘unintentionally.’ But philosophers have found it quite difficult to explain precisely what the distinction amounts to.
 
So, for example, there has been a great deal of controversy over the relationship between the concept intentional and the concept intention. Many philosophers accept the so-called ‘Simple View,’ according to which a behavior cannot correctly be considered ‘intentional’ unless the agent had an intention to perform it (Adams 1986; McCann 1986). However, Michael Bratman has argued in a series of influential publications that it is sometimes possible for an agent to intentionally perform an action even when he or she did not specifically intend to perform that action (Bratman 1987, 1984).
 
A similar controversy surrounds the problem of side effects. Suppose that an agent performs a behavior for the purpose of obtaining some outcome x. And now suppose the agent knows that this behavior will also bring about some other outcome y. The agent does not care at all about outcome y — her only motivation for performing the behavior is a desire to bring about outcome x. In a case like this one, has the agent intentionally brought about outcome y? Some philosophers say yes (Ginet 1990); others say no (Garcia 1990).
 
Part of the difficulty here results from the fact that people seem to have different intuitions depending on the nature of specific side effect involved. Thus, consider the case of a corporate CEO who decides to implement a new program. He knows that the program will have a certain side effect s, but he doesn’t care at all about effect s; his only aim is to increase profits. Has the CEO intentionally brought about effect s? Here it can be shown that people's intuitions depend in a crucial way on what the effect s happens to be. When the side effect is described as 'harming the environment,’ most people say that the agent brought it about intentionally; but when the side effect is described as 'helping the environment, most people say that the agent did not bring it about intentionally (Knobe 2003). A number of philosophers have proposed theories designed to handle tricky cases like these (Harman 1976; Pitcher 1970; see Mele & Sverdlik 1996 for further commentary).
 
Finally, a particularly complex and thorny puzzle concerns the issue of deviant causal chains. This issue can be brought out with an example from Davidson (1980, p. 78): “A man may try to kill someone by shooting at him. Suppose the killer misses his victim by a mile, but the shot stampedes a herd of wild pigs that trample the intended victim to death.” Here the agent intends to kill a person and actually does kill that person, but it appears that the intention somehow fails to bring about the action ‘in the right way’ and that the agent cannot therefore be said to have killed the person intentionally. Although a number of philosophers have offered accounts of precisely what it means for an intention to bring about action ‘in the right way’ (Mele & Moser 1994; Searle 1983), no real consensus has emerged.
 
 
Joshua M. Knobe