When We Speak of Intentions

  • Philip N. Hineline


“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Surely people all find this a valid aphorism despite any skepticism regarding hell as a distinct geographical location. Even if one assumed that Hades were to be found at some particular place, this reference to a road and its paving would be recognized as purely metaphorical, and one would not confuse intentions with bricks or cobblestones. Nevertheless, most discussions of intention, as well as intentional statements themselves, are subtly susceptible to the kinds of distortion that can occur through metaphor. Behavior analysts have traditionally steered clear of that problem by eschewing intentional language. If intentions are mentioned at all, it typically is to reject them as “mental fictions.” But important and interesting relations are at issue when people speak of intentions, and it may be enlightening to closely examine those ways of speaking and writing. Most pervasively, intentional language induces us to look within the actor for sources of action even though the identification of intentions is usually based upon external consequences of the relevant actions. It can be shown, however, that more subtle features in common patterns of speaking and writing can also obscure the events that intentional prose is actually about.


Behavior Analysis Intentional Statement Behavior Analyst Component Pattern Efficient Causation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip N. Hineline
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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