A distinction must be made between those actions that are both voluntary and intentional and those that are voluntary but not intentional. Not all voluntary actions are intentional, in the sense of being based on, derived from, or guided by, prior intent. We may in some cases voluntarily perform actions that we did not previously intend to perform (or have a prior intention of performing).
We may in some cases express an intention to perform an action even though we know there is little likelihood that our intention to perform that action will be fulfilled. Indeed, the action may be one that is very difficult or nearly impossible for us to perform, even though we have expressed an intention to perform it. We may also in some cases unknowingly deceive ourselves as to our ability to perform an action, and we may also unknowingly or knowingly deceive others as to our ability to perform that action.
We may also in some cases say that we intend to perform an action that we in fact have no good reason to perform. In such cases, there may be a lower degree of likelihood that we will fulfill our intention to perform the action than in cases where we have good reason to perform the action.
We may also in some cases not be able to identify all the reasons for our intentions. We may also not be able to explain our intentions to ourselves and to others. We may lack adequate insight into the nature of our intentions. Other persons may have difficulty interpreting or understanding our actions when our intentions are unclear or unexplained (to them and even to ourselves).
We may also in some cases express an intention to perform an action even though we have little or no intention of performing that action. We may fail to recognize or admit our true intentions, and we may unconsciously or consciously ignore, deny, or refuse to acknowledge them.
Thus, we may in some cases make unintentionally false or misleading statements about our true intentions, simply because we have failed to recognize or acknowledge them.
Can we actually be mistaken about our own intentions? If we fail to examine them when they are unclear, when they appear to be logically or morally inconsistent, or when they appear to be in conflict, then perhaps we can be mistaken about them.
We may also in some cases deceive others (and ourselves) about our true intentions. We may conceal, disguise, or misrepresent our true intentions.
We may also in some cases have morally wrong and unjustified intentions (e.g. if we wrongfully intend to harm, injure, offend, annoy, inconvenience, harass, or humiliate other persons), and our statements about those intentions may also be morally wrong and unjustified (e.g. if we make intentionally false, deceptive, or misleading statements about those intentions).
Our having expressed an intention to perform an action may, however, provide additional motivation for us to perform that action, by requiring us to demonstrate our truthfulness and sincerity. Our expression of an intention to perform an action may entail some degree of responsibility on our part to confirm or verify that intention.
We may in some cases, however, intend to perform an action without knowing all its possible consequences, and thus the action may be intended and intentional but have unintended or unanticipated consequences.
Regarding the question of whether a distinction should be made between an “intended” and an “intentional” action, the distinction may consist in whether or not the action is actually performed. If an action is intended, then the intention to perform that action may or may not be fulfilled (the action may or may not actually be performed). If an action is intentional, on the other hand, then it is actually performed—intentionally, on purpose, or deliberately. It makes no sense to say that an action that was “intended” but not performed was “intentional,” although its being intended may be a manifestation of its “intentionality.”
Some examples of sentences expressing an intention to perform an action include “I intend to do that,” “I have every intention of doing that,” “I’m going to do that,” “I plan to do that,” “I’ve decided to do that,” “I’ll be sure to do that,” “I won’t forget to do that,” “I’ll remember to do that,” and “I’ll make every effort to do that.”
Other examples of sentences expressing an intention to perform an action include “I promise to do that,” “I feel a duty to do that,” and “I feel obliged to do that” (assuming in each case that the speaker of the sentence does in fact intend to perform the action in question).
Such phrases as “with the intention of,” “in order to,” and “for the purpose of” may also express intention. Examples include “I telephoned the manager with the intention of making an appointment,” “I’m studying Bergson’s philosophy in order to learn how to think intuitively,” and “For the purpose of getting a new outlook on life, I decided to buy a new pair of glasses.”
Some examples of sentences expressing a lack or absence of intention include “I don’t intend to do that,” “I have no intention of doing that,” “I never had any intention of doing that,” “I don’t plan to do that,” and “I’m not going to do that.”