Annals of Ethics
Online ISSN : 2434-4699
What makes our actions intentional?
A perspective from Heidegger’s Being and Time
Hiroshi TAKAI
Author information

2020 Volume 69 Pages 161-174


 What makes our actions intentional? It seems easy to answer this question. It is intention. What, then, is intention? Simply, it is a mental state. Someone gets an intention in her mind─a mental state. And following that intention, she takes an intentional action.  This basic view of intentional action, however, raises some questions, because it misses some actions that we can certainly recognize as intentional. For example, we can imagine a male professor who behaves rudely only toward women. Since his behaviors appear to be selective, we are inclined to judge his sexist behaviors as intentional. However, the professor might not be aware of the disposition of his own actions, and would deny that they are intentional. Certainly, he does not act with the intention of behaving rudely, yet it is unacceptable to think that his behaviors are perfectly unintentional. We therefore need a more inclusive explanation than the basic view above.  Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time provides us with such an alternative explanation. In this book, he analyzes our ordinary actions and develops a unique theory about intentional actions that does not rely on the existence of intentions as mental states. In this study, we try to clarify and evaluate Heidegger’s theory of intentional actions.  Heidegger’s theory contains three main aspects. First, what makes our action intentional is the fact that that our action is relevant to our own commitment. Second, we are not transparently aware of where we commit ourselves. Third, whether some actions are relevant to one’s commitment or not is objectively defined. Combining these theses, Heidegger constructs an attractive theory about intentional action, and his theory can explain more inclusively what makes our actions intentional. The male professor above has almost unconsciously committed himself to being a “male person” and to the idea that males are superior to females─and his sexist behaviors are therefore relevant to his commitment, which forms who he is, in part. According to Heidegger’s perspective, the professor’s behaviors are actually intentional actions.

Information related to the author
© 2020 The Japanese Society for Ethics
Previous article Next article