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Volume 2

Expanded Contents


1. Introduction and Summary
2. The Concept of Field
3. Reality and the Intentional Field
4. Freedom and Intentional Humanism
5. Perceiving Another
8. Behavior
9. Social Behavior and Interaction
10. Types of Social Interaction
11. The Equation of Social Behavior
12. The Transition to a Sociocultural Field
13. The Sociocultural Space
14. The Field of Social Forces
15. The Sociocultural Field
16. Distances
17. Status Distance
18. Status Distance and Behavior
19. The Fundamental Nature of Power
20. Social Power
21. The Family of Power
22. Social Fields and Antifields
23. Groups and Antifields
24. Class
25. Social Class And the Class-Literature
26. Conflict
27. Conflict in the Sociocultural Field
28. The Elements of Social Conflict
29. The Process of Conflict
30. Social Fields and Types of Societies
31. The State and Political System
32. Societies, Politics, and Conflict
33. Societies in Empirical Perspective
34. Testing for the Existence of Exchange, Authoritative, and Coercive Societies
35. Is Conflict Manifest as Theorized?

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 6

Intentions, Attitudes,
And Interests *

By R.J. Rummel

What makes life dreary is the want of motive.
---- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Vill.1xv


When we perceive another, we blend our perception of their manifestations, determinables, and dispositions--their field of expression--with perceived intentions. We impute to another some motive which organizes our perception of their behavior.

The reasons why human interaction so rarely excludes message sending lie in the facts of individual learning. That is, individuals learn that certain events serve as cues, or signs, revealing or portending some state of affairs of interest to them. Just as thunder and lightning are signs pointing to the possibility of a storm, so words, gestures, and acts on the part of other persons are signposts conveying information about their attitudes or their probable behavior. In particular ... we learn to attribute "intentionality" to other people on the basis of the cues they provide; that is, their behavior, as well as their words, contains messages, inferred from cues, about their motives and attitudes as referents, whether or not they intend to send such messages. In sum, almost any instance of human behavior that is observable to another person carries information to him, provided only that he has learned to look for it in others' behavior, and has learned how to find it.
---- Newcomb, et al., 1965, p. 189

Now, insofar as I use the term, an intention is a disposition in the process of realization; it is the active desire to achieve some future goal through some specific behavior in a particular circumstance. For example, we perceive a man bent over fingering the laces on his shoe as if intending to tie them, a women reaching for a car door as if intending to open it, or a student enrolled in college as if intending to get a degree.

Perceived intentions organize our perspective; they give yet another kind of meaning to our understanding of the social world in terms of purposes, goals, aims, plans, designs, missions, and ends. Intentions are the active, conscious, future aims we perceive another to have.

These intentions are projected towards us through another's field of expression. He presents a complex of phenomena bearing on our perspective and forcing recognition of specific, underlying, latent intentions.

Thus, we see a field of expression that is a women opening a refrigerator door as a women intending to get some food. We may be wrong, of course. She may intend to check the inside temperature. Moreover, she may know we are watching and be deceiving us about her real intentions (say, to distract us from the game of chess we are playing against her). She may be framing a field of expression that conveys an intended intention, as does the actor on stage. Of course.

But the percipient's perspective includes the other's field of expression only as a situation within the percipient's dynamic psychological field. Within this field, the perception becomes part of the percipient's cognitive balance and structure of beliefs and is related to his personality. Thus, the other's intentions are interpreted as a total historical and psychological act: as a gestalt whose elements are our past experience with him and similar others; our cultural meanings, values, and norms; our beliefs and personality; and our own intentions, including our superordinate goal of self-esteem.

Thus, the other may project his intentions, but their meaning for us involves their confrontation with our own experience and nature. This two-way process is basic to perception and I will later elaborate on it.


Intentions have three important characteristics. First, the intended goal may involve imaginary elements. For example "I intend to stop Mary from cheating in class" does not imply that she is really cheating. That description of reality entailed by an intention may be wrong.

Second, one cannot substitute into the description apparently synonymous words or phrases. For example, from "John intends to interview the governor of Hawaii" and "the governor is the smartest politician in the state," we cannot infer that "John intends to interview the smartest politician in the state." Rather, he may regard the governor as a mediocre politician who got his position through luck and shrewd friends.

What these two characteristics imply about the perception of intentions already has been suggested, in part. The field of expression that is the other provides an imperfect understanding of his perception. We simply cannot know for sure what he intends, for his intention may involve totally imaginary elements unknown to us, or he may be trying to deceive us about his intentions through manipulating his field of expression.

Finally, to understand the other's intention necessitates that we adopt a congruent description of it. To say that John intends to interview the smartest politician in the State of Hawaii, as a description, may seem absolutely consistent with the facts (his going to the governor's office with an appointment for an interview, having discussed with us his desire to write an article on the governor, and taking along a tape recorder; and our belief that the governor is Hawaii's smartest politician). Yet, John may not agree that this is his intention, for he may deny that he is interviewing the smartest politician. To consider another example:

If I fling half a crown to a beggar with intention to break his head, and he picks it up and buys victuals with it, the physical effect is good; but, with respect to me, the action is very wrong.
---- Samuel Johnson: in Boswell's Life, May 24, 1763

Clearly, then, intentions can really be known only to the person holding them. It is only by asking the person himself that we get a true picture of his intentions--that is, if he is telling the truth. And here our faith in his word--his credibility--gained through our perception of the past correlation between his professed intentions and behavior is the crucial element in accepting these intentions.

Besides possibly involving imaginary elements and the problem of substitution of alternative descriptions, intentions are characteristically active: they are goals now in the process of realization, dispositions now being transformed to manifestations. This means, then, that there are inactive goals, or dispositions not in the process of transformation.


Goals and desires not in the process of realization I will call attitudes. Now, as I use the term, an attitude is a want or desire, an object, and a goal.1 Examples of attitudes are the latent desires to watch television, to eat, to trade with China, to strengthen the structure of peace, to support welfare, and so on. The strength of a person's attitude is his interest.2 An interest is thus a power--the force an attitude has towards manifestation in a person's behavior.

Now, an interest as an activated attitude always involves a goal and object: a person has an interest in helping others, in getting a B.A. degree, in going to a movie, and so on. Moreover, interests consist of an active tendency, a strength towards the realization of their goals and thus the gratification of their desires. Thus, interests have both direction (the attitudinal goal) and magnitude (its power), and are therefore vectors.

What then is the relationship between interests and intentions? Interests are activated attitudes: goals a person actually wants. However, the interest may remain entirely latent with no associated behavior, no manifest movement to gratify it.

For example, as I write I have an interest in having breakfast, in getting a Samoyed puppy, and in protecting my family against inflation. Yet, although I have these interests, at the moment I am writing this book they are active, but latent. They do not constitute my current intentions to write about attitudes and interests.

Intentions are interests being manifested through behavior. Although actual in another's psychological field, interests are not intentions until they become so manifest. Intentions are the transformation of interests into a cognitive and behavioral process directed at a conscious goal. Intentions are living interests.


We perceive the intentions of others, their in-order-to motives, and these provide a dynamic element, creating a gestalt that orients our perception. Intentions, however, are only one kind of meaning a field of expression can have. Two others are causes and reasons.

Much of the behavior of others we see as causal effects, and understand them in this light. The field of expression of a drugged person, of another sharply withdrawing his hand from a hot stove, and of a third scratching an itch, are best understood causally. Similarly with behavior involving the moods, or states, associated with a cold, menstrual cycles, psychological stress, physical fatigue, and so on.

Causes provide one explanation of behavior, reasons are another. In a general sense reasons can be the rules or conventions, the principles, the dispositions, or the goals associated with behavior. When we understand a person's behavior as customary or norm following (as with manners at a table, "hello" over the telephone, a chess move), we then have a reason for it. Note that customs or norms are not causes, since they are not discrete events, but dispositional explanations. Thus, when we view another's smoking as a manifestation of a habit we are providing a dispositional explanation for his behavior. Habit is the reason according to which we organize this behavior. Rules, conventions, and dispositions are a basic ingredient in understanding all kinds of behavior.

Sociologists have given the name role to our disposition to behave in a particular way in specific circumstances. We have our roles as parent, lawyer, lover, citizen, and so forth. Roles are conventional behaviors associated with our goals. Aside from goals, however, the expectations and norms connected to these roles can be perceived as reasons organizing another's field of expression. "In short, one actor perceives the behavior of another as a meaningful action expressing some purpose or sentiment embodied in a role. On the basis of the perception of what the other is up to, the actor then devises his own course of action." (Wilson, 1970, p. 700).

Reasons, however, also refer to our ethics, our fundamental moral values. A person serves on a jury because he sees it as his duty, another endures torture because he thinks it wrong to betray his country, a third is honest because he judges lying an evil. Our moral Goods and Evils fundamentally guide our behavior and provide meaning and understanding to that of others.


All the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,--both what they half create,
And what perceive.
---- Wordsworth, Tingern Abbey

One behaves and another perceives. What is perceived? A difficulty is that the question assumes an objective third-person description. Rather, an answer to such a question is itself a perception, but one constrained by the real world and our moral intentions. Within these constraints, I am selecting a perspective on our perception and interaction--called intentional humanism--oriented towards our creating our world.

Within this view, the person behaving is a complex of space-time potentialities, dispositions, determinables, powers, and manifestations. Which of these potentials become actualized and which dispositions or determinables become manifest or specific is partly a function of the perspective brought to bear on it.

Now, the percipient's perspective transforms the reality of the other's behavior through four aspects. First is the physical point-of-view, the station of the percipient. Second are his sensory receptors which select and transform incoming stimuli. Third is the cultural matrix which endows sensations with orientation, meaning, values, and norms. And fourth is the percipient's dynamic psychological field which forces perceptibles--interpreted sensations--into conformity with his belief structure, personality, and superordinate goal.3 What is thus seen as another's behavior is indeed a perspective transformation of this outer reality.

Through this transformation the other's behavior is seen as a situation, itself a cluster of dispositions, determinables, powers, and manifestations. This cluster I call a field of expression, since the configuration of phenomena we perceive is a dynamic balance--a gestalt-integrated by the meaning we assign the whole. There are three kinds of meanings which unify and interpret a field of expression. First is the meaning provided by our perception of another's intentions. These explain our perceptions and give them a logico-functional unity. The field of expression constituting a women running down the street is thus "jogging to get exercise."

A field of expression can also be given meaning by infusing perceived behavior with causal structure or by providing reasons. We therefore readily understand behavior that we perceive as caused by lack of sleep, or that manifests habit, moral principles, cultural norms, or social roles.4 A social act is a perceived field of expression consisting of individual meanings, and orientation. Thus, John throwing a ball is a field of expression consisting of boy, John, arm, ball, throw, shirt, black hair, and so on for the configuration of determinable and specific stimuli associated with this act and infused with meanings and orientations by a percipient's cultural matrix. It is not this configuration of "public" meaning with which I am concerned when I refer to the constituent meaning of a social act. Rather it is that which gives the act unity. The meaning of a social act is the unity it is given by the underlying intentions, causes, or reasons. This unity is a dynamic gestalt, an integration of the field of expression constituting the act. I have yet to define social and act with any precision. This will be done in Chapter 8. First, however, I should discuss a person's perspective in relation to his behavior. For perception and behavior are entwined in the idea of a social act. 


* Scanned from Chapter 6 in R.J. Rummel, The Conflict Helix, 1976. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. I am adopting Raymond Cattell's (1950) definition of attitude. For the treatment of attitudes in the psychological field, see Chapter 20 of The Dynamic Psychological Field).

2. Throughout this book, Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, I will use the terms attitude and interest with this meaning, even when writing about topics apparently much removed from this chapter, such as social conflict or power.

3. "Social perception in general can best be described as a process between the center of one person and the center of another person, from life space to life space. When A observes B's behavior, he 'reads' it in terms of psychological entities (and his reactions, being guided by his own sentiments, expectations, and wishes, can again be understood only in terms of psychological concepts" (Heider, 1958, p. 33). While insightful in emphasizing process, life space, and psychological entities in social perception, Heider ignores the meaning-endowing role of the culture matrix.

4. Thus, providing meaning to a field of expression through intentions, reasons, or causes is a documentary interpretation, as Wilson (1970) uses the term. A documentary interpretation "consists of identifying an underlying pattern behind a series of appearances such that each appearance is seen as referring to, and expression of, or a 'document of,' the underlying pattern. However, the underlying pattern itself is identified through its individual concrete appearances, so that the appearances reflecting the pattern and the pattern itself mutually determine one another in the same way that the 'part' and 'whole' mutually determine each other in gestalt phenomena" (pp. 700-701). He later goes on to say that "The central premise of this argument is that there is no way of seeing an event as an action and of describing its features other than through the documentary method of interpretation. Because actions are constituted and have their existence only through the participants' use of the documentary method of interpretation, the researcher has access to these same actions as intended objects of description only through documentary interpretation" (pp. 701-2).

For citations see the Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix REFERENCES

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