I'm reading an article about intention recognition in computing areas and somehow robotics. I came across this sentence:

This problem has been discussed as the difference between “intended and intentional action”.

But unfortunately I can't understand the difference between intended action and intentional action.

According to dictionaries:

  • intended: planned or meant
  • intentional: done on purpose; deliberate

But they are also marked as synonyms. So could someone clarify the difference between an intended action and an intentional one?


I believe the difference lies in the achievement of an objective and the motivation for it.

If I intentionally strike you in the face, I have done something deliberate and it had an effect, which was most likely to hurt and outrage you. But I could claim that my intended action was to shoo away a wasp that was about to sting you, and that striking you in the face was an unfortunate consequence (i.e., a "by-blow") of my wish to safeguard your health.

In short, the motivation for an intended act may be at odds with its consequence. An intentional act is simply one that was deliberate, saying nothing about why it happened.

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    Intentional was successful. Intended was unsuccessful. ;) – SF. Oct 24 '12 at 12:18
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    There seems to be another aspect to the distinction WRT computing & robotics: Computers & other robots can perform intended actions but not intentional actions because computers & other robots are mechanical entities under the command of humans or system programs (that might have been created by humans directly or by meta-level computer programs that write other programs). Computers & robots aren't volitional beings, so they cannot do anything intentionally. Does this sound reasonable to you? – user21497 Oct 24 '12 at 12:19
  • @BillFranke: Yes. The robots are merely proxies for whatever human is controlling them. But we're getting into hair-splitting and discussions of what is and is not free will, etc., even in human beings. – Robusto Oct 24 '12 at 12:47
  • @Robusto: I don't think so. That's too philosophical. I'm thinking of law, where the instrument of murder isn't punished but the person who intentionally wielded that instrument is punished for the intention to murder, even if the murder attempt is unsuccessful. A gun can perform the intended action, but only the trigger puller can be punished for intent to commit murder, or the possessor of more than 4 grams of pot can be punished for intent to sell. Not philosophy but statute law. – user21497 Oct 24 '12 at 13:18

An intended action is something that was desired or preferred over an alternative.

Was that your intended selection, or did you have to settle for second best.

Intended is often used to describe outcomes.

Was that the intended result, or did you hope for better?

An intentional action is one that is deliberate as opposed to random or accidental.

When you hit the lamp with the bat, was that intentional, or did you just not see it?


Intend (and hence intended) is a verb:

intend, v.

    1. trans. To have in the mind as a fixed purpose; to purpose, design. (The chief current sense.)

Intentional is an adjective, or (obsolete) noun:

intentional, adj. and n.

A. adj.

    1. Of or pertaining to intention or purpose; existing (only) in intention. intentional fallacy n. in literary criticism, the fallacy that the meaning or value of a work may be judged or defined in terms of the writer's intention.
    1. Done on purpose, resulting from intention; intended. Rarely of an agent: Acting with intention.

So, it would appear that if Bob killed the cat intentionally, Bob intended to kill that cat. This is called the 'Simple View', at least according to Michael Bratman.

In experiments though, this has not turned out to be the case in practice. One famous experiment (Knobe, 2003) presented people with a vignette in which a CEO, saying he didn't care about the environment, chose to make a profit knowing it would harm the environment. 82% 0f responses said he intentionally harmed the environment.

Changing the 'harm' to 'help', so the CEO said he didn't care about helping the environment, resulted in only 23% of respondents saying he intentionally helped the environment.

From this, it appears that intentionality depends to a large extent on whether the action is something to be condemned or praised, or in other words has an element of judgement in it.

This, basically, is your “intended and intentional action” reference.

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    Seems to me that the CEO didn't care despite knowing that his profit-taking would do harm: he did it anyway. In the other case, he didn't know whether his profit-taking would help or not, but he didn't express no concern about harming the environment. So his actions, as far as he was concerned, would result in either positive or neutral effects. In neither case would he deserve praise for intentionally helping the environment, but in the first case, he'd deserve condemnation for intentional harm simply because he knew the outcome would be harmful. – user21497 Oct 24 '12 at 14:30

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