Development of intent

There are four levels to this type of development[7]. Potential freedom needs to be temporarily limited so, in a way, these levels have also a restraining role. Every further level first opposes the previous one and then, ideally, integrates it. So, development in this respect is not really a straightforward but dialectic process. A propensity for any level may exist in a latent form from the start, but they are expressed, in most cases, subsequently. This dimension has a special value because it relates to agency, and therefore it has the potential to directly affect other dimensions.


The physical level - this level starts from the moment the soul and body connect[8] and is manifested through the interaction of the body with the environment. In other words, one's own body is the reference point (what it can do and what it cannot). Physical determinism is dominant. An infant is driven by shis instincts and urges, of which the most important are the needs for body-preservation and physical development (that besides body growth also involves the utilisation of physical skills). Although rapid enlargement and activity of the neocortex can be detected, the senses and the so-called R-complex part of the brain are dominant. Considering that this level is to a great extent inertive, the challenge is to overcome indolence.


The conventional level - the physical level starts to be modified relatively early by significant others (i.e. parents) and culture; toilet training and acquisition of language are normally the first instances. This level is characterised by social determinism, known in psychology as nurture. One's reference point are cultural norms (that may be reinforced by socially induced feelings such as shame). Reaching this level is a gradual process that requires transcending the centrism of the previous one. The main motive on this level is social preservation, maintaining the sense of belonging and acceptance. Not surprisingly, emotions and the limbic system take a prominent role. As psychologist Turiel points out, ‘social behaviour is, in the main, guided by emotions; reason is, at best, secondary' (1983, p.7). So, the major challenge of this level is to defeat ignorance.


The personal level - the move from the second to the third level normally starts around puberty and can be fully reached during adolescence (although this is not a rule). It is characterised by the development of will, self-affirmation, independence and autonomy[9]. This level involves separating oneself (first of all from significant others, i.e. parents) at least in behaviour and actions. Such a tendency facilitates forming links based on one's choice, so, personal relationships (friends, partners) are valued most. Typical motives are personal happiness and personal power. One's ego (self-image) and personal norms become the main reference point. Intellect and the neo-cortex start to dominate. The challenge is to defeat self-importance (or arrogance).


The transcendent level can be achieved (but does not have to) in the post-adolescent period. The motive is to find a meaning in one's life, to re-establish integration and unity, but this time fully-conscious. In other words, the person is in tune (synchronised) with the Intent, the purpose of life. This is not to say that spiritual awareness is necessary. A meaning in one's life can be congruent with the meaning of life without our acknowledging or even realising it. What is required though, is dedication and commitment, although of course, not every dedication indicates this level. It involves transcending the personal (without losing oneself) for the sake of something greater: others, a generally worthwhile idea or activity, or spiritual practice. In a way, through its legacy this level can transcend even death. The challenge is to defeat selfishness (being capable of genuinely selfless acts[10]), which requires a move beyond ego-boundaries. This is difficult, because it entails giving up ego-control. The reference point is universal norms mediated by post-verbal intuition rather than cognitive principles.


From what level one acts can be recognised in almost any situation that requires choice, even in the most mundane ones such as buying a pair of shoes: the determining factors, if acting from the first level, are to keep feet warm and clean, and prevent an injury; the driving force behind the second one is likely to be cultural norms; at the third level it is important that the shoes fit the personal image. An overall motive at the fourth level could be that shoes are meaningful, purposeful (not conspicuous or a distraction in any way, but comfortable and congruent with one's overall goals or activities). This, on the surface, does not differ much from the first level, but is based on a deliberate rather than instinctual choice, which implies greater awareness and freedom.

  • [7]. They can be related to Loevinger's Ego Development stages: pre-social & symbiotic, impulsive, self-protective (1); conformist, self-aware (2); conscientious, individualistic, autonomous (3); integrated (4); and Kohlberg's stages of moral development: pre-conventional (1); conventional (2); post-conventional (3); and universal - stage 6 and 7 in his system (4).
  • [8]. When this happens exactly is difficult to say. The offset of awareness or agency needs to be determined, which is not easy. Almost certainly it is a pre-natal event, probably sometime between the first heart beat and the first kick (for a more detailed discussion on this issue see Wade, 1996, chapter 2).
  • [9]. Which should not be confused with the individuality of infants that is based on their character.
  • [10]. Unselfish behaviour can also be a result of up-bringing, social conditioning.