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The Distinction Between Desire and Intention: A Folk-Conceptual Analysis

In B. F. Malle, L. J. Moses, & D. A. Baldwin (Eds.), Intentions and intentionality: Foundations of social cognition.Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

[From the introductory chapter:] Three chapters in the first section of this volume explore what unique conditions underlie people’s ascriptions of intention and how these conditions distinguish the folk concepts of intention and desire. Bertram Malle and Joshua Knobe contend that the two concepts are distinguished by three features: First, intentions are directed at the intender’s own action, whereas desires can be directed at anything. Second, intentions are based on some amount of reasoning whereas desires are typically the input to such reasoning. Third, intentions come with a characteristic commitment to perform the intended action, whereas desires do not. Malle and Knobe provide conceptual arguments and empirical data to support the validity of this tripartite model. They also speculate about the psychological functions of the folk distinction between desire and intention.

To request a copy of this paper, write to me at ‘knobe at email dot unc dot edu.’

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