Intentionality – Evolution of a Concept

  • Maurita HarneyEmail author
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 30)


If there is a common theme through the rich diversity of Max Charlesworth’s academic life and works, it is the quest to understand human action as meaningful, significant and subject to interpretation rather than reducible to the explanatory techniques of positivistic science. This orientation is summed up in the philosophical concept of intentionality. Intentionality is a key notion for continental philosophers whose ideas formed the subject-matter of Max’s legendary course in ‘Contemporary European Philosophy’ at Melbourne University and later, of the foundation philosophy programs at Deakin University. The origins of the concept of intentionality are to be found in mediaeval philosophy – another of Max’s teaching areas, and a commitment to intentionality is deeply implicit in his engagement with the religious and the spiritual as well as with ethics.

In this essay I trace the changing conceptions of intentionality in recent philosophy and in doing so, indicate developments within the continental philosophical tradition and its shifting relations with the analytical tradition in Australian philosophy.


Intentionality Contemporary European philosophy Analytical philosophy Mediaeval philosophy University of Melbourne Phenomenology Existentialism Arabic philosophers Aristotle Hermeneutics Nature Husserl Merleau-Ponty Avicenna Averroës Campanella Sensation Perception Pansensism 


  1. Aristotle. (1961). De anima. Edited, with introduction and commentary by W. D. Ross. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  2. Avicenna. (1952). Psychology (Kitāb Al-Najat Book Two, Chapter VI) (F. Rahman, Trans.). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Avicenna. (1959). De anima. Being the psychological part of Kitāb Al-Shifā’ (F. Rahman, Ed.). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Black, D. (1993). Estimation (Wahm) in Avicenna: The logical and psychological dimensions. Dialogue, XXXII, 219–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Black, D. (2004). Psychology: soul and intellect. In Peter Adamson & Richard C. Taylor (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Arabic philosophy (pp. 308–326). Cambridge companions to philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Black, D. (2010). Intentionality in mediæval Arabic philosophy. Quaestio, 10, 65–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  8. Braidotti, R., & Hlavajova, M. (Eds.). (2018). Posthuman glossary. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  9. Brentano, F. (1973) [1874]. Psychology from an empirical standpoint (C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell, and Linda McAlister, Trans.) (from the second edition, of 1924) (first edition, 1874.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Caston, V. (2001). Connecting traditions: Augustine and the Greeks on intentionality. In D. Perler (Ed.), Ancient and medieval theories of intentionality (pp. 23–48). Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  11. de Beauvoir, S. (1949). Le Deuxième Sexe (The second sex). Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  12. Ernst, G. (2014). Tommaso Campanella. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition). (Edward N. Zalta, Ed.). Accessed 27 Aug 2016.
  13. Føllesdal, D. (1969). Husserl’s notion of the noema. Journal of Philosophy, 66, 680–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Frege, G. (1970) [1892]. On sense and reference (Uber Sinn und Bedeutung). Translated by M. Black. In P. T. Geach & M. Black (Eds.), Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege (pp. 56–78). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Gendlin, E. T. (2012). Line by line commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima (Books I, II and III). Spring Valley: The Focusing Institute.Google Scholar
  16. Harney, M. J. (1984). Intentionality sense and the mind. The Hague: Dordrecht Martinus-Nijhoff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harney, M. (2015). Naturalizing phenomenology – A philosophical imperative. Journal of Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 19(2). Special theme issue on Integral Biomathics. Guest edited by P. Simeonov, S. Rosen and A. Gare.Google Scholar
  18. Hasse, D. (2000). Avicenna’s De anima in the Latin West. London: Warburg Institute.Google Scholar
  19. Heller-Roazen, D. (2007). The inner touch: Archaeology of a sensation. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  20. Hoffmeyer, J. (2012). The natural history of intentionality: A biosemiotic approach. In T. Schilhab, F. Stjernfelt, & T. Deacon (Eds.), The symbolic species evolved (Biosemiotics 6) (pp. 97–116). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Husserl, E. (1965 [1910–1911]). Philosophy as rigorous science. In Phenomenology and the crisis of philosophy (Quentin Lauer, Trans.). New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  22. Husserl, E. (1969 [1913]. Ideen I (Ideas). (W. R. Boyce Gibson, Trans.). London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  23. Levinas, E. (1998). Intentionality and sensation. In Discovering existence with Husserl (pp. 135–150). Edited, and chapter translated by, Richard A. Cohen and Michael B. Smith. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  24. McGinnis, J. (2010). Avicenna. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of perception (Phénoménologie de la perception) (Colin Smith, Trans.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  26. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible (Le visible et l’invisible). Edited by Claude Leforte, translated by Alphonso Lingis. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Merleau-Ponty, M. (2003). Nature: course notes from the Collège de France. (La nature: notes, cours du Collège de France, Paris: Gallimard, 1995.) Compiled with notes by Dominique Séglard (Robert Vallier, Trans.). Evanston: Northwestern Unversity Press.Google Scholar
  28. Mohanty, J. N. (1982). Husserl and Frege. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Rahman, F. (1952). Avicenna’s psychology. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Seager, W., & Bourget, D. (2007). Representationalism about consciousness. In M. Velmans & S. Schneider (Eds.), Blackwell companion to consciousness (pp. 261–276). Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2010). Body and movement: Basic dynamic principles. In S. Gallagher & D. Schmicking (Eds.), Handbook of phenomenology and cognitive science (pp. 217–234). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Siewert, C. (2011). Consciousness and intentionality. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition) (Edward N. Zalta, Ed.).
  33. Smith, D. W., & McIntyre, R. (1982). Husserl and intentionality: A study of mind, meaning, and language. Dordrecht/Boston: Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. von Uexküll, J. (1957) [1934]. A stroll through the worlds of animals and men. In Instinctive behavior: The development of a modern concept (pp. 5–80). Edited and translated by Claire H. Schiller. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Historical and Philosophical StudiesUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations