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Encyclopedia > Intentional fallacy

The intentional fallacy, in literary criticism, is the assumption that the meaning intended by the author of a literary work is of primary importance. By characterizing this assumption as a "fallacy," a critic suggests that the author's intention is not particularly important. The term is an important principle of New Criticism and was first used by W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley in their essay "The Intentional Fallacy" (1946 rev. 1954): "the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art." The phrase "intentional fallacy" is somewhat ambiguous, but it means "a fallacy about intent" and not "a fallacy committed on purpose." Literary criticism is the study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ... An author is the person who creates a written work, such as a book, story, article or the like. ... It has been suggested that Logical fallacy be merged into this article or section. ... New Criticism was the dominant trend in English and American literary criticism of the early twentieth century, from the 1920s to the early 1960s. ... William Kurtz Wimsatt, Jr. ... Monroe Curtis Beardsley (1915-1985) was an American philosopher of aesthetics. ... In literary theory and aesthetics, authorial intentionality is a concept referring to an utterances authors intent as it is encoded in the medium of communication (speech, writing, performance). ...

Wimsatt and Beardsley divide the evidence used in making interpretations of literary texts (although their analysis can be applied equally well to any type of art) into three categories:

(1) Internal evidence. This evidence is present as the facts of a given work. The apparent content of a work is the internal evidence, including any historical knowledge and past expertise or experience with the kind of art being interpreted: its forms and traditions. The form of epic poetry, the meter, quotations etc. are internal to the work. This information is internal to the type (or genre) of art that is being examined. Obviously, this also includes those things physically present to the work itself.

(2) External evidence. What is not actually contained in the work itself is external. Statements made privately or published in journals about the work, or in conversations, e-mail, etc. External evidence is concerned with claims about why the artist made the work: reasons external to the fact of the work in itself. Evidence of this type is directly concerned with what the artist may have intended to do even or especially when it is not apparent from the work itself.

(3) Contextual evidence. The third kind of evidence concerns any meanings derived from the specific works relationship to other art made by this particular artist—as is the way it is exhibited, where, when and by whom. It can be biographical, but does not necessarily mean it is a matter of intentional fallacy. The character of a work may be inflected based upon the particulars of who does the work without necessarily characterizing it as an intentional fallacy.

Thus, a text's internal evidence — the words themselves, and their meanings — is fair game for literary analysis. External evidence — anything not contained within the text itself, such as information about the poet's life — belongs to literary biography, not literary criticism. Preoccupation with the author "leads away from the poem." According to New Criticism, a poem does not belong to its author, but rather "it is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it. The poem belongs to the public." It is the Contextual evidence that presents the greatest potential for intentional fallacies of interpretation. Analysis using this type of evidence can easily become more concerned with external evidence than the internal content of the work.

Roland Barthes expressed a similar dismissal of authorial intentionality in the 1968 essay "The Death of the Author." Roland Barthes Roland Barthes (November 12, 1915 – March 25, 1980) was a French literary critic, literary and social theorist, philosopher, and semiotician. ... Death of the author is a theory proposed by French literary critic Roland Barthes. ...


William Kurtz Wimsatt, Jr. ... Monroe Curtis Beardsley (1915-1985) was an American philosopher of aesthetics. ... The Sewanee Review (founded 1892) is the oldest continuously published literary magazine in the United States. ...

See also

  • Affective fallacy
  • Deconstruction - Asserts that even if the author states intentions for the meaning of a work, that meaning is not privileged above other interpretations.

  Results from FactBites:
Intentional Fallacy (3213 words)
This fact does not refute the claims of the so-called intentional fallacy because there may be works of literature where the author does not intend to express a certain opinion or point of view regarding the subject matter of her work.
Juhl argues that the intentions of the author determine the meaning of the text, and so if we are able, by biographical evidence or other kinds of "external" evidence, to gain more insight into the nature and hence intentions of the author, then ipso facto we gain insight into the meaning of the authorial text.
If intentions are often unconscious, it should not come as a surprise that the poet-as-annotator may not be aware of all implications of what he wrote as poet, and he may emphasize, in his role as annotator, certain aspects of the poem that are not necessarily the most central, given his intentions as writing-poet.
JOSE ANGEL GARCIA LANDA: Authorial intention in literary hermeneutics: On Two American Theories (12775 words)
Intentionality is a relationship between a cognitive representation and a state of affairs, in which the cognitive representation can be said to be "about" the state of affairs.
According to Searle, "the mind imposes Intentionality on entities that are not intrinsically Intentional by intentionally conferring the conditions of satisfaction of the expressed psychological state upon the external physical activity" (1983a, 27).
Intention is not merely something which precedes the work or exists apart from it; neither is intentionalism a blind submission to any meaning an author may claim for his work.
  More results at FactBites »



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