See first, ANICCA, NĀMA, & A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [f]. Cetanā, properly speaking, is 'intentional intention'—i.e. 'will' or 'volition'—, but the word intention, in its normal looser meaning, will include these, and is the best translation for cetanā. The following passage from Husserl's article 'Phenomenology' in the Encyclopaedia Britannica may throw some light on a stricter or more philosophical sense of the word.

But before determining the question of an unlimited psychology, we must be sure of the characteristics of psychological experience and the psychical data it provides. We turn naturally to our immediate experiences. But we cannot discover the psychical in any experience, except by a 'reflexion,' or perversion of the ordinary attitude. We are accustomed to concentrate upon the matters, thoughts, and values of the moment, and not upon the psychical 'act of experience' in which these are apprehended. This 'act' is revealed by a 'reflexion'; and a reflexion can be practised on every experience.[a] Instead of the matters themselves, the values, goals, utilities, etc., we regard the subjective[b] experiences in which these 'appear'. These 'appearances' are phenomena, whose nature is to be a 'consciousness-of' their object, real or unreal as it be. Common language catches this sense of 'relativity,' saying, I was thinking of something, I was frightened ofsomething, etc. Phenomenological psychology takes its name from the 'phenomena,' with the psychological aspect of which it is concerned: and the word 'intentional' has been borrowed from the scholastic to denote the essential 'reference' character of the phenomena. All consciousness is 'intentional'.
In unreflective consciousness we are 'directed' upon objects, we 'intend' them; and reflection reveals this to be an immanent process characteristic of all experience, though infinitely varied in form. To be conscious of something is no empty having of that something in consciousness. Each phenomenon has its own intentional structure, which analysis shows to be an ever-widening system of individually intentional and intentionally related components. The perception of a cube, for example, reveals a multiple and synthesized intention:[c] a continuous variety in the 'appearance' of the cube, according to the differences in the points of view from which it is seen, and corresponding differences in 'perspective', and all the differences between the 'front side' actually seen at the moment and the 'back side' which is not seen, and which remains, therefore, relatively 'indeterminate,' and yet is supposed equally to be existent. Observation of this 'stream' of 'appearance-aspects' [Sartre suggests 'profiles'] and of the manner of their synthesis, shows that every phase and interval is already in itself a 'consciousness-of' something, yet in such a way that with the constant entry of new phases the total consciousness, at any moment, lacks not synthetic unity, and is, in fact, a consciousness of one and the same object. The intentional structure of the train of a perception must conform to a certain type, if any physical object is to be perceived as there! And if the same object be intuited in other modes, if it be imagined, or remembered, or copied, all its intentional forms recur, though modified in character from what they were in the perception to correspond to their new modes. The same is true of every kind of psychical experience. Judgement, valuation, pursuit,—these also are no empty experiences, having in consciousness of judgements, values, goals and means, but are likewise experiences compounded of an intentional stream, each conforming to its own fast type.  
Intentions may be regarded basically as the relation between the actual and the possible. A thing always presents itself from a particular point of view; there is an actual aspect together with a number of possible aspects.[d] The set of relations between the actual aspect and all the alternative aspects is the same, no matter which one of the various aspects should happen to be actual. It is in virtue of this that a thing remains the same, as the point of view changes. Intentions are the significance of the actual aspect; they are every possible aspect, and therefore the thing-as-a-whole. In intentional intention the possible aspects show themselves as possible, and the actual aspect, consequently, appears as optional. There is now exercise of preference (with the pleasant preferred to the unpleasant),[e] and this is volition in its simplest form. There is no limit, however, to the degree of reflexive complexity that may be involved—every reflexive attitude is itself optional. It will be seen that intentions by themselves are a purely structural affair, a matter of negatives; and when the question is asked, 'What are the intentions upon this occasion?' the answer will be in the positive terms of nāmarūpa and viññāna.[f] We must also consider the matter of the difference of emphasis or 'weight' possessed by the various possible aspects: though each alternative to the actual aspect is possible, they are not all equally probable (or potential), and some stand out more prominently than others. The emphasized aspect may, of course, be the actual aspect as the negative of all the possible aspects; and this will tend to preserve the actual state of affairs. This is 'attention' (manasikāra) in its simplest terms: it may be described as 'direction of emphasis'. Clearly, there will be no intentional intention that does not involve attention. (A thing—a lump of iron, say—has many possible purposes; and these determine it for what it is; they are its intentions. But when the lump is to be used, one among these purposes must be attended to at the expense of the others—it cannot be used both for driving a nail into the wall and as a paper-weight at the same time.) And, naturally, where there is attention there is intentional intention (i.e. cetanā); and there is no consciousness without at least incipient attention. (I have taken attention as essentially reflexive, but it might be argued that there is already immediate attention as the perspective of immediate intention.)



[a] Cf. 'Now by phenomenology Peirce means a method of examining any experience you please with a view to abstracting from it its most general and, as he claims, its absolutely necessary characteristics.'—W. B. Gallie, Peirce and Pragmatism, Penguin (Pelican) Books, London. The word 'abstracting' is unfortunate—see MANO [b]. For more on 'reflexion' see DHAMMA [b] & ATTĀ [a]. [Back to text]

[b] Later in the same article Husserl speaks of the 'bare subjectivity of consciousness', thereby indicating that he identifies consciousness, in one way or another, with 'self'. He evidently accepts the subject revealed in reflexion (see ATTĀ) at face value, and regards it as consciousness (though for other puthujjanā it may be, instead, matter (substance) or feeling or perception or determinations or, in some way, all five—see Khandha Samy. v,5 <S.iii,46>[4]). See VIÑÑĀNA. This extract has to be taken with considerable reserve: Husserl's doctrine is not acceptable in detail.

Husserl goes on to make the following remarks. 'The "I" and "we," which we apprehend presuppose a hidden "I" and "we" to whom they are "present". ...But though the transcendental "I" [i.e. the reflexive "I" to whom the immediate "I" is revealed] is not my psychological "I," [i.e. the immediate "I" apprehended in reflexion] it must not be considered as if it were a second "I," for it is no more separated from my psychological "I" in the conventional sense of separation, than it is joined to it in the conventional sense of being joined.' Husserl seems to be aware that, taken in isolation, no single one of the trio of wrong views of the Sabbāsavasutta on the nature of reflexion—see A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §25—is adequate; but, also, he is unable to escape from them. So, by means of this ingenious verbal device, he attempts to combine them—and succeeds in falling, very elegantly, between three stools. [Back to text]

[c] Bertrand Russell seems to say (Mysticism and Logic, Penguin (Pelican) Books, London, VIIIth Essay) that a cube (or whatever it may be) is an inference, that all possible appearances of a cube are inferred from any single appearance. But this supposes that inference, which is a matter of logic or thinking (takka, vitakka), is fundamental and irreducible. Husserl, however, says that a cube is an intention. Note that vitakka does not go beyond first jhāna, whereas cetanā is present up to ākiñcaññāyatana (Majjhima xii,1 <M.iii, 25- 9>). [Back to text]

[d] It seems that, at the first level of complexity, the actual aspect is necessarily accompanied by precisely three possible aspects (like a tetrahedron presenting any given face). For details see FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURE I. Cf. Bradley's acute observation (op. cit. [Logic], I,iv,§§13 & 14) that, in disjunctive judgement, where it is given that A is b or c (not both), though we can say with the certainty of knowledge that if A is b it is not c, we can say that if A is not c then it is b only if we make the assumption that, because we do not find a predicate of A that excludes b or c [i.e. b-or-c], therefore there is none. It now turns out that we do find such predicates and that the disjunction must be fourfold: if A is b or c it must be b or c or d or e. No doubt the only evident example is the three-dimensional nature of geometrical space, which can be represented by four points (the vertices of a tetrahedron), any one of which can be taken as the point of origin to the exclusion of the other three (which remain possible). (These mathematical illustrations are treacherous; they make things appear simpler than they are, and contain self-contradictions—'points', for example—; and the picture must be abandoned before it is allowed to mislead.) [Back to text]

[e] This does not mean that what is preferred will necessarily be obtained; for each aspect, actual or possible, is presented with its own arbitrary inertia at the most immediate level of experience. Reflexive intention can only modify the given state of affairs. (Strictly, [there is] an arbitrary 'weightage' prior to (i.e. below) immediate intention; this is 'discovered' in a perspective by consciousness and immediate (involuntary) intention is a modification of it (and of that perspective); then reflexive intention is a modification of all this.) But, other things being equal, the pleasant dominates the unpleasant ('pleasant' and 'unpleasant' being understood here in their widest possible sense). [Back to text]

[f] Though there is intention (cetanā), both simple and reflexive (i.e. volition), in the arahat's experience (pañcakkhandhā), there is no craving (tanhā). In other words, there is, and there is not, intention with the arahat, just as there is, and there is not, consciousness (viññānaq.v.). There is no consciousness without intention. Craving, however, is a gratuitous (though beginningless) parasite on the intentional structure described here, and its necessity is not to be deduced from the necessity of intention in all experience. Intention does not imply craving—a hard thing to understand! But if intention did imply craving, arahattā would be out of the question, and there would be no escape. [Back to text]