Literary Intentionalism

Metaphilosophy 50 (4):503-515 (2019)
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In the philosophical debate about literary interpretation, the actual intentionalist claims, and the anti-intentionalist denies, that an acceptable interpretation of fictional literature must be constrained by the author’s intentions. I argue that a close examination of the two most influential recent strands in this debate reveals a surprising convergence. Insofar as both sides (a) focus on literary works as they are, where work identity is determined in part by certain (successfully realized) categorial intentions concerning, e.g., title, genre, and large-scale instances of allusion, allegory, and irony and (b) allow that works can acceptably be interpreted for unintended meanings—since an intentional act can, under a different description, exhibit unintended features—then they turn out to share the same interpretive policy concerning authorial intention. This suggests that philosophers should shift the interpretation debate away from issues of authorial intention and toward issues about the aims of interpretation.
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