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Intention is an agent's specific purpose in performing an action or series of actions, the end or goal that is aimed at. Outcomes that are not anticipated and not foreseen are known as unintended consequences.
Intentional behavior can also be just thoughtful and deliberate goal-directedness. Recent research in experimental philosophy has shown that other factors may also matter for whether or not an action is counted as intentional.
G.E.M. Anscombe made the topic of intentional action a major topic of analytic philosophy with her 1957 work Intention. She argued that intentional action was coextensive with action of which one could ask "why were you doing that?" In the sense that Anscombe meant her question, it was "refused application" by the answer "I was not aware that I was doing that", but not by "for no reason at all". Therefore Anscombe held that it was possible to act intentionally for no reason at all. She also claimed that intentional action was subject to "knowledge without observation", and that all intentional action involved acting under a description.
In recent years, there has been a large amount of work done on the concept of intentional action in experimental philosophy. This work has aimed at illuminating and understanding the factors which influence people's judgments of whether an action was done intentionally. For instance, research has shown that unintended side effects are often considered to be done intentionally if the side effect is considered bad and the person acting knew the side effect would occur before acting. Yet when the side effect is considered good, people generally don't think it was done intentionally, even if the person knew it would occur before acting. The best-known example involves a chairman who implements a new business program for the sole purpose of making money but ends up affecting the environment in the process. If he implements his business plan and in the process he ends up helping the environment, then people generally say he unintentionally helped the environment; if he implements his business plan and in the process he ends up harming the environment, then people generally say he intentionally harmed the environment. The important point is that in both cases his only goal was to make money. While there have been many explanations proposed for why the "side-effect effect" occurs, researchers on this topic have not yet reached a consensus.
One might postulate, however, that the reason we come to the aforementioned conclusions about the chairman's intentions, is perhaps due to a feeling of necessity to blame someone for negative consequences. Additionally, one may only be held accountable for actions taken under their own free will; for that reason, we tend not to grant a mantle of virtue to actions taken which were not deliberately willed by the catalyst to those consequences. For example, suppose the chairman had a sinister goal in mind, rather than just for money; but the unintended side-effects of his actions created a far greater good for everyone, than his petty "sinister" motivation for-- say, vengeance. Do we praise him for having accomplished a greater good, or condemn him for his wicked intent?
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