Intent Reconceived

Document Type

Response or Comment

Publication Title

Iowa Law Review


This Essay builds the foundation of a new paradigm in legal intent that' advances justice by producing an accurate fit between the blameworthy states of mind and the formal rules by which we measure culpability and punishment. The Essay begins by challenging the pervasive conflation of the states of mind of purpose and desire, a fundamental conceptual error sponsored by William Prosser, the dean of American tort law. The Essay then reveals the ambiguity inherent in our general notion of purpose by distinguishing between its non-culpable, aspirational aspect and culpable "executory purpose" that triggers the wrongdoer's act. The concept of executory purpose also overturns the traditional view that the states of mind of purpose and knowledge are independent prongs of legal intent. Instead, this Essay argues that the decision to act, which signifies a defendant's moral and legal culpability and underlies the state of purpose, constitutes a necessary condition of knowing action, making the division of intent into purpose or knowledge a false dichotomy. In turn, the Essay asserts that, in Garratt v. Dailey-the monument to tortious intent entrenched in first-year casebooks for over half a century-the Washington Supreme Court's remand to inquire into Brian Dailey's knowledge after the trial court found no purpose constitutes a logical contradiction. Finally, this Essay reconstrues the mental states of desire and knowledge as aggravating factors, like "premeditation," in the grading of criminal offenses and the measurement of punishment. These insights generate new analytical tools in the calculus of culpability. This Essay asserts the reconstruction of intent as executory purpose unfettered by the conflation of purpose and desire, the mistaken use of the aspirational sense of purpose, and the mirage of the knowledge prong ultimately achieves a seamless fit between our mental states and the doctrine of legal intent.

First Page


Last Page


Publication Date