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"Literary Intentionalism and the Identity Thesis: A filé in the Ointment?"

"Literary Intentionalism and the Identity Thesis: A filé in the Ointment?"

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Published by timdocs
Timothy Chambers, "Literary Intentionalism and the Identity Thesis: A filé in the Ointment?" Diálogos, Vol. 40, Nº 86, 2005 , pps. 157-164
Timothy Chambers, "Literary Intentionalism and the Identity Thesis: A filé in the Ointment?" Diálogos, Vol. 40, Nº 86, 2005 , pps. 157-164

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11/06/2012

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Diálogos 
, 86 (2005)
pp. 000-000
1
LITERARY INTENTIONALISM AND THE IDENTITY  THESIS: A FILÉ IN THE OINTMENT?
 TIMOTHY CHAMBERS(1) William Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley’s watershed work, “TheIntentional Fallacy,” famously divided philosophers and critics into a pairof rival camps: intentionalists and anti-intentionalists.
1
But where, pre-cisely, should the battle-line be drawn? In 1970, Beardsley offered a sim-ple candidate: the Identity Thesis . To be an intentionalist, that is, is tomaintain “that what a literary work means is identical to what its authormeant in composing it.”
2
Since the thesis is so straightforward, and(presumably) at the heart of a prominent intentionalist’s pivotal text,
3
it’sunsurprising that Beardsley’s framing of the issue has proven alluring, of late.
4
 To be sure, some commentators worry about so-narrowing the issue.Even if the Identity Thesis’ foes proved triumphant, Noël Carroll ob-
 
1
W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy,”
Sewanee Re- view 
54 (1946): 468-488.
2
Monroe C. Beardsley,
The Possibility of Criticism 
(Detroit: Wayne State Univer-sity Press, 1970), p. 17.
3
The text, of course, is E.D. Hirsch,
Validity in Interpretation 
(New Haven: YaleUniversity Press, 1967).
4
Discussions which presume that intentionalism is committed to the Identit Thesis (or a comparably strong condition see note 12, below) include: StevenKnapp and Walter Benn Michaels, “Against Theory,” in
 Against Theory 
, ed. W.J.T.Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 11-30, Richard Shusterman,“Interpretation, Intention, and Truth,”
 Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 
46(1988): 399-411, George Dickie and W. Kent Wilson, “The Intentional Fallacy: Defend-ing Beardsley,”
 Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 
53 (1995): 233-250, as well astheir subsequent discussions of this essay (Wilson, “Confession of a Weak Anti-Intentionalist: Exposing Myself” and Dickie, “Reply to Noël Carroll”) in
 Journal o Aesthetics and Art Criticism 
55 (1997): 309-312.
 
2T
IMOTHY 
C
HAMBERS
D86serves, “it would only warrant anti-intentionalism with respect to onekind of artistic interpretation viz., the literary intentionalism of wordsand word sequences.”
5
The worry is a worthy one; after all, the Inten-tional Fallacy has traditionally been entertained across the arts.
6
Thenagain, there’s something to be said for Beardsley’s gambit. For either theliterary arts are (let’s say) sufficiently analogous to the non-literary arts, orthey aren’t. If the former, then our resolutions concerning literary inten-tionalism will carry over to the non-literary arts, and Beardsley’s restric-tion is harmless; if the latter, then literary intentionalism ought to bestudied independently of the intentional question in the non-literary arts,and Beardsley’s boundary guards against treating dissimilar matters simi-larly. The foregoing argument, though, presupposes that the Identity The-sis aptly characterizes literary intentionalism. On this point, I disagree.(2) Our first clue that the Identity Thesis mischaracterizes Hirsch inparticular, and literary intentionalism in general, springs from an infor-mal philosophers’ heuristic: the Principle of Charity. Our reading of anopponent’s efforts, that is, “should minimize the assumption of falsebelief” – especially egregious howlers – on our opponent’s part. Rather,one’s reading should reflect “the standard practice of attempting to finda sympathetic reading of texts.”
7
Hence my brief project: to recount,first, how the Identity Thesis is vulnerable to an array of devastating counterexamples, and second, to show that (Hirsch’s) intentionalismplausibly admits a reading that evades the counterexamples. Charity,then, would entail that we need not read the (Hirschean) intentionalist ascommitted to the Identity Thesis.(a) If we grant broad scope to Beardsley’s phrase, “literary work,and allow it to encompass workaday bits of speech, then the Identity 
 
5
Noël Carroll, “The Intentional Fallacy: Defending Myself,”
 Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 
55 (1997): 305-309, at p. 306.
6
E.g., painting and sculpture see Nan Stalnaker, “Intention and Interpretation:Manet’s Luncheon in the Studio,”
 Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 
54 (1996):121-134, Sidney Gendin, “The Artist’s Intentions,”
 Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criti- cism 
23 (1964): 193-196, and Isabel C. Hungerland, “The Concept of Intention in ArtCriticism,”
 Journal of Philosophy 
52 (1955): 733-742.
7
The foregoing quotes are from, respectively, Penelope Mackie, “charity, princi-ple of,” in
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy 
, ed. Ted Honderich (New York: Ox-ford University Press, 1995), p. 130, and Daniel C. Dennett,
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea 
(Boston: Little, Brown Publishers, 1995), p. 404n2.
 
(2005)L
ITERARY 
I
NTENTIONALISM AND THE
I
DENTITY 
 T
HESIS
3 Thesis fails if we can find simple cases where expressions fail to mean what their authors (or speakers) intended to express. Yet such examplesare easy to find, and exemplify three types.(i) Misspeaking . What if the speaker intends to utter one word, butaccidentally utters another? In their recent defense of Beardsley, GeorgeDickie and W. Kent Wilson invite us to “[c]onsider the problem raisedby misspeaking.” Suppose, for example, that
 Antoine misspeaks and says, “There is a filé in your soup.” (Filé is a thick-ener used in gumbo.) Brennan, knowing there is a filé in his soup, answersirritably, “I know”….Suppose Antoine then realizes that he has misspokenand says, “I intended to say there is a fly in your soup.” Is it not reasonablefor Brennan to say, “That may be what you intended to say, but it is not whatyou said.”?
So much for the Identity Thesis – and, Dickie and Wilson infer, so muchfor (Hirschean) intentionalism, as well:
 This argument is convincing to some, but it would not be to Hirsch…he would insist that intention determines meaning and, therefore, that Antoine’sutterance…means that there is a fly in Brennan’s soup. Of course, his insis-tence is not an argument.
8
(ii)
 
Malapropism . What if a speaker utters the phrase they’d in-tended, but is mistaken concerning what the phrase, in fact, means?“The trouble with [Hirsch’s] view,” David Novitz avers, “is that authors,like speakers, make mistakes….They may be guilty of malapropisms…,and as a result they may fail to say what they mean. The resultant passageshave a meaning which is different from the author’s meaning.”
9
In some proffered counterexamples, it’s unclear which of these twoforegoing categories the critic intends. Suppose, Dickie writes,
 Tom says to Bill, “I weaned the orphaned calf,” intending to communicatethat he had taken care of the calf….Bill says, “Didn’t you mean to say, ‘I nur-tured the orphaned calf’?” “Yes,” Tom answers, “I nurtured the orphanedcalf.” Bill now knows what Tom intended to say, but the original sen-tence…has not been interpreted to mean, “I nurtured the orphaned calf.
10
 
8
Dickie and Wilson, p. 237. The Antoine-example plays a recurring role in theessay – cf. pp. 238, 244, and 245.
9
David Novitz,
Knowledge, Fiction, and Imaginatio
(Philadelphia: TempleUniversity Press, 1987), p. 106.
10
George Dickie, “Reply to Noël Carroll,” p. 311.

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