Digest of terms

intention

the purpose behind an action or utterance - the meaning intended by what is said or done may be different from the outward impression given. In ethics and morality, religious or otherwise, good intent and genuineness of purpose are common hallmarks. In Buddhist ethics right intention expresses true mindfulness and is the hallmark of truly moral agency. In Christian ethics this corresponds directly with one of the most striking features of Jesus as presented in the gospels: his strong condemnation of self-righteous hypocrisy. In Islam, declaration of intent is prerequisite ahead of the performance of any religious duty as a check on authenticity. In Humanist ethics there is emphasis on having the proper intentions, so that ethics does not collapse into prudence; on the other hand, a possible criticism of consequentialism is that it underestimates the importance of intentions. Intuitively we feel that a balance needs to be struck: good intentions matter, but not to the point of social consequences ceasing to matter. Moreover, intentions can have unintended consequences. The adage that 'the way to hell is paved with good intentions' is a reminder that the challenge of matching them to the appropriate actions requires critical care.

An intention - to win a race, may have a variety of motives behind it - to prove one's ability, to impress particular onlookers, to win much-needed prize money. In legal terms, if an 'act' lacks the appropriate accompanying intention there may be no guilt.

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