phenomenology: what is intentionality?

The central notion in phenomenology is “intentionality”.

Intentionality suggest that whenever there is consciousness, then consciousness is always consciousness of something. In other words, there is always something there for consciousness. Consciousness can not be empty.

This something can have different shapes and forms. Could be a physical, as well as a mental, object. Could be a logical, or could be emotional, object. There will always be something there for consciousness.

Take a look at the picture below: Consciousness is conscious of the picture, when you engage in it.  Zoom in on the book in the background of the picture, and the book is that something for consciousness. Engage the person in the frame, or the pocket watch sharp in the foreground, then the frame, the person or the clock is that something for consciousness.

These are very simple examples, but there are much more to intentionality than this. Pick up the next posts, in this new barebones theme, and you will learn more about intentionality along the way. Just let me mention one important implication already in this post. I am sure you are aware of the dualism that Western thought have been locked up in for last several hundred years? The dualism saying that there basically are two worlds. the mental world, and the rest of it. But since the mental world is something going on inside people’s heads, the main question for many centuries has been: how does the human mind ever get outside a persons head to pick up objects of different kinds? (Ridiculous set-up, I know).

Phenomenology deals with this problem in an elegant way through intentionality. Since consciousness is always consciousness of something, the outer and the inner world are bound together from the very start. The question of how the mind get out into the world, should never have been posed. It is not a real issue. The mind, and the outer world are one coherent unit. They can’t be taken apart.

One more thing: Be clear that you understand “intentionality” right from the very start. You already know the word intention from everyday life. You intend something. You intend for, instance, to go to the movies tomorrow, to grab a bite to eat later, or you intend to go on holiday next summer. This “intentionality”, if you chose to call it that, is not the same as the intentionality used and intended in phenomenology.

In phenomenology you don’t have to be deliberate about your intent as you normally are in situations from everyday life. Intentionality understood within phenomenology is already there for you. You can’t avoid it.

So the pledge here is only this: don’t mix the two contents of intentionality.

My Grandfathers Clock. Copyright Knut Skjærven.

My Grandfather's Clock. Copyright Knut Skjærven.

What’s in it?

What’s in it? Knowing about intentionality, what use could it have for communicators? If will try to state a few lines about that every time, that I post in this theme. But I will limit the scope of this tailing. I will bullet only 3 things, even if there are many more, that could be said. Easy for me, and good for you. So, here we go:

1. You need to know that consciousness is always consciousness of something. If you don’t know, you will not be able to act on it.

2. Even if you write a text, make a drawing, speak out load, take a photograph, but keep all of it in your drawer, these acts of communication will not, phenomenologically speaking, exist for others. The range of communication will be limited.

3. The character, and the content, of the potential response from people, with other minds that your own, will act and react on the message, or the none message, based on the totality of their former, present, and future intentionalities.

Pretty banal, I know, but it will be more precise as this theme unfolds.

5 thoughts on “phenomenology: what is intentionality?

  1. …thanks for this! I focused on the photo as you asked & noticed the Sokolowski book on the desk, similar to how it is sitting on my desk. It was intended in its absence & its presence.

    As an artist, the practice of phenomenology feels like what I’ve been doing all the time, but didn’t have a way of understanding. Now it is becoming a little clearer–



  2. Dear Aurelio

    Thanks for your comment and for your interest. Does that mean that you have the book by Sokolowski?

    Please tell me more about your art. I am sincerely interested. Do you have a web page for your work?

    The point is that phenomenology, in my opinion, is “exactly what you do all the time”. Reading about it will “only” give you a better understand of it, as you say.



  3. Hi Knut,

    Nice to make a philosophical friend!! Yes, I’m reading through the Sokolowski Intro. right now! I love it. Meanwhile I want to look over your blog, to read more about your notes & ideas on the book. Any info. on the subject is not easy to find & to find a like mind is even better.
    Perhaps if I have questions, I’ll think of you & we’ll continue a discourse.

    All the best,

    p.s. the is my artwork as featured on flickr:

    & my blog: luctor et emergo


  4. Dear Aurelio

    Thanks one again. I found your sites already and I like what see there. I need to spend some more time with them. I’ll revert.

    Yes, it is amazing that so few seems to be fascinated by phenomenology, even when it is quite down to earth most of it. The whole area have been obscured by cryptic language (Hussesl hilmself), and scholars who believe that philosophy, is best conducted by reading what others have written. And then repeat their words.

    To me phenomenology is a search, a constant beginning and an eye for detail (well executed in your art e.g.)

    This is hopefully reflected on barebones, where I try to puzzle my way around. So don’t look for answers, please, look for more questions :-).

    On the other hand, some of my photograph are pretty complete in the sense that they don’t need additional information to be “understood”. Though very ofter open ended, they are. Here is a link:

    Let me hear about your progress with Sokolowski, or even better about how you you execute “phenomenological thinking” in your art. That would be great :-).

    many thanks


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