Andre Hayen’s Essay on Intentionality

(I’ve been reading Hayen’s celebrated essay on intentionality in St. Thomas. I’ve lost the citation, but I found it online here. What follows is a hatchet-job translation.)

After having given rise to facile caricatures for a long time, the scholastic theory of the intentional today seems to have recovered more and more of the favor that it had lost. This is fitting and entirely to the profit of modern philosophy; which could be easily discovered from studying the notion of the intentional, its importance, and its fecundity of application in the works of Husserl and the philosophers and psychologists that he inspired. This article strives to speak of the same topic, considering it from a different point of view…

Idealism comports itself most of all to the work of that philosopher who entirely eliminates transcendence. A realist metaphysic, on the other hand, needs to deal with a double problem: the problem of the real world exterior to my knowledge, and the problem of the true God, both personal and superior to my mind.  In the philosophy of the School, the theory of intentional species allows for an easy resolution to the first of these two problems. It explains the objectivity of our knowledge of the world by relating it to a world exterior to our knowledge by means of a resemblance of the things themselves to the immanent species of things.

Such a solution strikes more than one philosopher as purely verbal. What is this intentional being that one attributes to species and which is opposed to the nature of the thing? …We will be careful of not losing sight of the second problem, since the theory of the intentional will not be strong enough to escape the objections raised against it unless it establishes itself as a metaphysical doctrine accounting for both the relative transcendence of the exterior world and the absolute transcendence of God.

To be sure, in some of the manuals, and sometimes even in good authors who, on this point, have not given a foundation to their thought, the theory of the intentional represents only a vain escape. In the Thomistic system, on the other hand, the intentional occupies a special place, and it is inserted at the very heart of a solid and coherent system, along with the doctrine of participation and the analogy of being.

We want to briefly give some indications in what follows, in summary fashion, of the importance of the notion of the intentional in Thomism, and how the intentionality of material being and of every finite being allows for a resolution of the double problem of the world and God.

The central place of the intentional

in Thomistic philosophy

The Words of St. Thomas: The term intentional receives diverse senses from the pen of St. Thomas. A few years ago, an excellent article by Simonin sorted them out and neatly classified them. The distinct senses nevertheless have very close relations between them. The examination of the vocabulary of St. Thomas shows that in his thought the concepts of voluntary intention and attention have a close affinity, likewise the concepts of of instrumental intention and the intention of knowledge; voluntary intention and the instrumental intention; and the intention of knowledge and of the will.

The same property is found in the diverse intentions: in the activity of an instrument as in the will, and likewise in objective knowledge- and this common property is a tendency towards something beyond: from the will that fixes in attention or impulse towards an end, of an instrument that obeys the impulse of its principal cause or the sense and intelligence which attains a distinct, exterior object.

This tendency results in a motion, or in an overflow: the instrument, the sense, the intelligence, the will are all bearers of a force which causes because it is superior.

This makes it possible to give a more precise account of the general sense of the concepts of intentionality and the intentional presence.

We will call the intentionality of a being the presence in that being of a force or perfection (and in the metaphysics of act, the two terms are perfectly synonymous and both signify a principle of activity) that goes beyond itself and causes beyond itself. This overflow and causality, in turn, demands to be made more precise by a definition of the intentional presence: an intentional presence is to be a perfection which is neither confounded with it (for then it would be a presence of pure identity, in the way that God is present to himself) and nevertheless is not radically distinct from it (for then the presence would reduce to a pure spatial contiguity) To be perfectly clear: the intentional presence of a perfection to a being is a real identity, though imperfect, between the being and the perfection. More completely, since in the metaphysics of act every identity is necessarily an active identity the intentional presence of a perfection to a being will be defined by an active, though imperfect identity of the being and the perfection.

This last definition allows us to give a precise, clear, and analytic relation (though analytic in the Scholastic and not the Kantian sense) between the concepts of intentionality, tendency, and participation.


The intentionality of being, which we come to define by an active but imperfect identity is exactly the tendency of the being toward the perfection that attracts its dynamic motion (that is, through the mode of a final cause) a perfection intentionally present to a being is thus present and acting in a being in the mode of a final cause.

Secondly, intentionality is also given an exact definition under another aspect: the participation (that is, the reception of a particular superior act that belongs to another) to a being of a perfection that is intentionally present to it. A perfection intentionally present and acting in this manner is an efficient cause.

Participation and tendency, agency and finality, do not exclude each other by mutually imply one another. When after ascending the ladder of subordinate causes to ultimate causes, the first cause according to agency and the last according to finality coincide in an identity such that the production of the one is not really distinguished in its origin from the motion of the other.

Intentionality = participation = tendency. Why, one might ask, should we introduce the crude pretence of intentionality when it would suffice to express our thought to speak of participation and tendency, or, if one prefers, of a dynamic participation?

This is true, but the crudity can be defended, since it makes explicit an aspect of participation that would be unfortunate to lose from view.

Exactitude of terminology and thought is important here. We have spoken until now of the intentionality of a being, but the analysis which we have done allows us and even requires us to speak of the intentionality of finite being, that is, of the being that participates in esse or of a material being that participates in the form.

Suppose it was only necessary to speak of participation and tendency. When you speak of sufficiency, you risk exaggerating the sufficiency of the being that you are considering: it actively tends to an end, you might say, but are you assured of not losing sight of the end that subjects this being, and which is the very principle of its active tendency? The term participation underlines the truth of the immanence of the participated perfection with the being that it participates in, but is it not also necessary to underline the transcendence – whether relative or absolute – of this perfection?

When, on the other hand, we speak of the intentionality of being and of an intentional presence of a perfection to the being in which they participate, this draws attention to the intimate and total dependence of these beings on a on a transcendent perfection that is intentionally present to them and nevertheless profoundly immanent to them since this intentional presence creates and is constitutive of the participated being…


1 Comment

  1. Mike Flynn said,

    May 25, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I wonder if you might find this interesting:

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