What Does Intentionality Mean in Phenomenology?


Martha Robinson

Intentionality is a key concept in the field of phenomenology. It refers to the directedness or purposefulness of consciousness towards objects in the world. In other words, intentionality is the capacity of our mind to be about something.

Phenomenology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the study of subjective experience. It involves exploring how things appear to us, rather than how they objectively exist in the world. Intentionality plays a crucial role in this process, as it allows us to investigate our experience of objects and phenomena.

What is Intentionality?

At its core, intentionality is about meaning and reference. When we think about an object or phenomenon, we are referring to it in some way.

For example, if we see a tree, we might think “that is a tree.” This thought has meaning because it refers to something in the world – namely, the tree itself.

However, intentionality goes beyond mere reference. It also involves a certain kind of directedness or orientation towards the object being referred to.

When we think about something, our mind is actively engaged with that thing in some way. This engagement might involve perception, imagination, memory, or other mental processes.

Intentionality can be described as a kind of “reach” or “grasp” towards objects. We are always reaching out towards things in the world – whether they are physical objects like trees and rocks or abstract concepts like love and justice.

The Role of Intentionality in Phenomenology

In phenomenology, intentionality is seen as essential for understanding subjective experience. By examining how our minds are directed towards objects and phenomena, we can gain insights into how those things appear to us.

For example, if we want to understand what it’s like to perceive an object like a chair, we need to examine how our minds are oriented towards that chair. We might explore questions like:

– What aspects of the chair are we attending to?
– How do we distinguish the chair from its surroundings?
– What kind of mental images or sensations arise when we perceive the chair?

By answering these questions, we can gain a deeper understanding of our experience of the chair – and by extension, our experience of the world in general.

Intentionality is also important for understanding how we make sense of abstract concepts. When we think about something like justice or happiness, we are referring to something that doesn’t have a physical existence in the world. However, our minds are still directed towards those concepts in some way.

By examining how intentionality works in relation to abstract concepts, phenomenologists can gain insights into how meaning is constructed and understood. This can help us better understand complex philosophical concepts and debates.


In summary, intentionality is a key concept in phenomenology that refers to the directedness or purposefulness of consciousness towards objects in the world. It plays a crucial role in our experience of both physical objects and abstract concepts. By examining how intentionality works, phenomenologists can gain insights into how subjective experience is constructed and understood.