Introduction: Is Intentionality a Relation?

  • Hamid Taieb
Part of the Primary Sources in Phenomenology book series (PSIP)


During the twentieth century, both phenomenology and analytic philosophy of mind devoted themselves to the study of what they called “Intentionalität” or “intentionality”. In §84 of Ideen I, Husserl describes intentionality asSimilarly, John Searle begins the first chapter of his book on intentionality as follows:Searle describes intentionality in terms of “directedness” or “aboutness”: thoughts are about something, either an object (e.g., a fear of something) or a state of affairs (e.g., a belief that such and such is the case). If language also has this aspect of intentionality or aboutness—that is, if words relate to things—it has it, according to Searle, only in a “derived” way: intentionality is an “intrinsic” property of mental acts and states, and it is the mind that “imposes” it on entities that are not intentional in themselves (“noises made through the mouth,” “marks on paper,” etc.). This property of being about, which is primarily attributed to the mind, has often been understood as a relation. This can already be seen in Brentano, who is generally credited with bringing the concept of intentionality into contemporary philosophy in both the phenomenological and analytic traditions. In Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, Brentano describes intentionality as a “relation to a content” (Beziehung auf einen Inhalt), and as a “relation to something as an object” (Beziehung auf etwas als Object), or more simply as a “relation to an object” (Beziehung auf ein Object). In his lectures on descriptive psychology in 1890–1891, he speaks of an “intentional relation” (intentionale Relation), which he also calls a “psychic relation” (psychische Relation). In fact, in this same series of lectures Brentano distinguishes between two modes of intentionality, namely, “only seeing” (bloß sehen), and “noticing” (bemerken) or “being clear about what is seen” (sich klar sein über das Gesehene). The latter mode seems to refer to an active dimension of intentionality tied to the notion of attention. Thus, in addition to intentionality understood in static terms, which treats it as a mere aboutness, there is an intentionality understood in dynamic terms, combining aboutness with attention, which is, as Victor Caston puts it, “our ability to focus, at will, on various objects in our environment or in our thoughts.”

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hamid Taieb
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SalzburgSalzburgAustria

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