In Brian McLaughlin & Ansgar Beckermann (eds.), The Oxford Handbook to the Philosophy of Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 474-93 (2009)
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The central and defining characteristic of thoughts is that they have objects. The object of a thought is what the thought concerns, or what it is about. Since there cannot be thoughts which are not about anything, or which do not concern anything, there cannot be thoughts without objects. Mental states or events or processes which have objects in this sense are traditionally called ‘intentional,’ and ‘intentionality’ is for this reason the general term for this defining characteristic of thought. Under the heading of ‘thought’ we can include many different kinds of mental apprehension of an object—including relatively temporary episodes of contemplating or scrutinising, as well as persisting states like beliefs and hopes which are not similarly episodic in character. These are all ways of thinking about an object. But even construing ‘thought’ in this broad way, it is clear that not all mental states and events are thoughts: sensations, emotions and perceptual experiences are not thoughts, but they are also paradigmatically mental. Do these mental states and events have objects too? Or are there mental states and events which have no objects?
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