Pierre Abelard: 1. Ethical Intentionalism

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Philosobyte level 2: This article contains some fundamental principles. Simples.Steff:
I’ve been reviewing Philosophical.Chat’s entry all about Pier Aberlard.

Sure, the article titled: Pierre Abelard: The Scandalous Medieval Maverick of Logic and Love?

Yes, that’s the one. It has three areas I’d like to delve deeper into.

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  1. Ethical Intentionalism
  2. Conceptualism in Universals
  3. Theological Rationalism

For this post please explain the Ethical Intentionalism and Its Implications.


Ethical Intentionalism, as proposed by Pierre Abelard, is a significant concept in the field of moral philosophy. Let’s explore what it entails and its implications:

Understanding Ethical Intentionalism

At its core, Ethical Intentionalism is the view that the moral value of an action is determined not by its consequences, nor solely by the act itself, but primarily by the intention behind it. This perspective marked a notable departure from the dominant ethical theories of Abelard’s time, which often focused on the outcomes of actions or the inherent nature of the actions themselves.

Key Points of Abelard’s Ethical Intentionalism:
  1. Dall·e A Conceptual Square Image Representing Ethical Intentionalism, Featuring Symbolic Elements Like An Open Book To Represent Philosophy, A Heart IntertwiIntention Over Outcome: Abelard argued that an action’s ethical value hinges on the intent of the actor. If an individual performs an act with a good intention, then the act is morally good, regardless of the outcome.
  2. Moral Responsibility and Inner Motivation: This perspective places significant weight on the agent’s moral responsibility, grounded in their inner motivations and reasons for acting. It implies a deeper examination of one’s moral character rather than just the external actions.
  3. Example in Context: For instance, if someone donates to charity with the intention of helping others (and not for self-glorification), Abelard would consider this action morally good. Conversely, if the same action is done solely for public recognition, he would deem it morally inferior, regardless of the positive outcome (helping others).
Implications of Ethical Intentionalism

Abelard’s theory had profound implications for both moral philosophy and practical ethics:

  1. Shift in Moral Evaluation: It shifted the focus from judging actions based solely on their consequences or compliance with rules, to considering the moral agent’s internal motivations and intentions.
  2. Complexity in Moral Judgments: Ethical Intentionalism recognizes the complexity of moral judgments, acknowledging that outwardly similar actions can have different moral values based on the actor’s intentions.
  3. Influence on Later Ethical Theories: This concept influenced later developments in ethics, particularly in theories that emphasize intentions, such as Kantian ethics, where the notion of ‘good will’ and intention plays a central role.
  4. Challenges in Practical Application: Ethical Intentionalism also presents challenges, particularly in its practical application. Determining an individual’s true intention can be difficult, and this theory might not always provide clear guidance for action, especially in complex situations where intentions and outcomes are intertwined.
  5. Ethics in Law and Psychology: In legal contexts, intention often plays a crucial role in determining culpability and moral responsibility. In psychology, understanding intentions is key to interpreting human behavior and relationships.

In summary, Ethical Intentionalism, as advocated by Abelard, brings a nuanced and introspective dimension to moral philosophy, emphasizing the importance of an individual’s intentions in determining the moral value of actions. This theory not only enriches ethical discourse but also challenges us to scrutinize the motives behind our actions.

Reading list:


  1. “Ethical Writings” by Peter Abelard: This collection includes Abelard’s own works, such as “Ethics” or “Scito Te Ipsum” where he elaborates on his theory of intentionality in ethics.
  2. “Abelard and Heloise” by Constant J. Mews: This book provides a detailed examination of the life and thoughts of Abelard and Heloise, with a focus on their contributions to ethical theory.
  3. “Medieval Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 2” by Anthony Kenny: Kenny’s work offers a comprehensive overview of medieval philosophy, with a section dedicated to Abelard and his ethical theories.
  4. “The Cambridge Companion to Abelard” edited by Jeffrey E. Brower and Kevin Guilfoy: A collection of essays by various scholars that discuss Abelard’s work in logic, ethics, and metaphysics, providing an in-depth look at his ethical intentionalism.
  5. “Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil” by Alain Badiou: While not directly about Abelard, this book offers a modern perspective on ethics and intentionality, which can provide a contemporary context to Abelard’s theories.
  6. “Moral Psychology and Human Agency: Philosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics” edited by Justin D’Arms and Daniel Jacobson: This collection includes essays on the role of intention in moral psychology, helping to deepen the understanding of Abelard’s position in a broader philosophical and psychological context.
Information online:

For a deeper understanding of Ethical Intentionalism in the context of Pierre Abelard’s philosophy, here are some resources that provide insightful perspectives:

  1. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Peter Abelard: This comprehensive source offers a detailed overview of Abelard’s life and work, including his contributions to ethical thought and other philosophical areas. Read more on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Abelard: This entry discusses Abelard’s theory of moral responsibility, emphasizing his views on intentions and moral goodness. Explore further on Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  3. PHILO-notes on Abelard’s Ethical Philosophy: This essay explores Abelard’s views on morality, virtue, and moral responsibility, highlighting his belief in the role of reason in ethical judgments and the importance of moral responsibility and emotions in decision-making. Learn more on PHILO-notes.

Each of these resources provides a unique angle on Abelard’s Ethical Intentionalism, from historical context to in-depth analysis of his ethical theories, making them valuable for anyone interested in exploring this aspect of his philosophy.

See also on Philosophical.Chat:
  1. Pierre Abelard: The Scandalous Medieval Maverick of Logic and Love
  2. Conceptualism in Universals
  3. Theological Rationalism
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