Efficient prospective motor control, evident in human activity from birth, reveals an adaptive intentionality of a primary, pre-reflective, and pre-conceptual nature that we identify here as sensorimotor intentionality. We identify a structural continuity between the emergence of this earliest form of prospective movement and the structure of mental states as intentional or content-directed in more advanced forms. We base our proposal on motor control studies, from foetal observations through infancy. These studies reveal movements are guided by anticipations of future effects, even from before birth. This implies that these movements, even if they are simple and discrete, are the actions of an intentional agent. We develop this notion to present a theory of the developing organisation of a core feature of cognition as embodied agent action, from early single actions with proximal prospectivity to the complex serial ordering of actions into projects to reach distal goals. We claim the prospective structural continuity from early and simple actions to later complex projects of serially-ordered actions confirms the existence of an ontogenetically primary form of content–directedness that is a driver for learning and development. Its implications for understanding autism are discussed.
- Embodied cognition