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that in such cases, our goal might indeed be to discern what the speaker/author
intended to mean.They also think we may have such a goal when confronted with
ambiguous utterances. What is it about cases like these that prompts us to become
concerned with the speaker™s intended meaning? Dickie and Wilson indicate that it is
because such cases are puzzling “ that is, because we are puzzled by what the speaker
is saying. But then Dickie and Wilson further suggest that it would be odd to base a
theory of the interpretation of artworks on cases like these.
But why? I agree that it would sound odd to base such a theory on conversational
mistakes. But it is not odd to base a theory of interpretation on the way in which we
respond to that which is puzzling. It is of the nature of artistic interpretation that it
takes as its object what is puzzling and nonobvious.6 It is because artworks are fre-
quently puzzling and that the significance of their various articulations is nonobvious
that we engage in the interpretation in the first place. So if, as Dickie and Wilson
appear to agree, it is appropriate to be concerned with authorial meaning when puz-
THE INTENTIONAL FALLACY: DEFENDING MYSELF 195

zles or questions arise, then it would seem to be apposite to adopt intentionalism in
response to artistic articulations that warrant interpretation.
The outlandish, enigmatic events, irrational character motivations, unusual
metaphors, oxymoronic sentences, and sentence fragments, as well as the gap-
ing narrative ellipses in Kathy Acker™s Pussy, King of the Pirates strike the reader
as puzzling and call for interpretation. They are not mistakes; they are the sort
of artistic innovations and defamiliarizations that we expect from avant-garde
novelists. They do not rely upon fixed conventions. So we ask ourselves what
Acker intends us to understand by them. Admittedly, this is an extreme case.
But it illustrates a standard characteristic of artworks “ namely, that they often
come with features that are unusual, puzzling, initially mysterious or discon-
certing, or with features whose portents are far from obvious.These features of
artworks are the natural objects of interpretation, and inasmuch as they defy,
redefine, or complicate standing conventions, we do not explicate them by
applying meaning conventions, but we ask ourselves what the artists in ques-
tion intend to mean by them.
How often does this happen? Quite often. Indeed, when it comes to the art-
works and constituent parts of artworks that we feel are worthy of interpretation,
this may be the rule, not the exception.
Dickie and Wilson think that it is strange to motivate an approach to art-
works by pointing to conversational failures. Of course, I do not try to moti-
vate my position exclusively by means of such cases. But even if I did, my
position would only sound strange when put in terms of mistakes. However,
when the relevant feature of mistakes is identified as a response to what is puz-
zling, then my position does not sound strange, once we recall that what is puz-
zling is the appropriate object of interpretation. Thus, even if Dickie and
Wilson were right in their claim that I misinterpret the nature of typical con-
versation, given what they say about the way in which we respond to conver-
sational puzzles, I can reinstate my conclusions about our response to artworks
by pointing to the nature of interpretation.

I I I . P L AC I N G T H E A RT I S T

According to Dickie and Wilson, my conception of ordinary conversations is
incorrect. On my view, when we speak with others our goal is to figure out what
they intend to say. But for Dickie and Wilson, we standardly only attend to the
meaning of the speaker™s utterance.
Of course, I would not wish to dismiss the importance of the meaning of the
utterance in conversation. Indeed, I think that in large measure utterance meaning
is the best guide to speaker meaning. But I still think intentionalist considerations
go into the typical comprehension of our fellow conversationalists, not only in
cases of obvious misspeaking, but in the normal case as well.
If I am stopped at a street corner in New York City and I am asked for the
whereabouts of the Empire State Building, I will try to figure out what I am
196 INTERPRETATION INTENTION
AND


being asked by tacitly or consciously hypothesizing what my interlocutor
wants to know. This will involve presumptions and/or conjectures about who
she is and about the purposes behind her question. Is she a traveler, for exam-
ple, or a pollster? If she is a traveler, with suitcase in hand, I will tell her that the
Empire State Building is on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. If she is a pollster,
with clipboard in hand, doing research on the geographical knowledge of
middle-aged Americans, it will be enough to tell her that the Empire State
Building is in New York City. In order to respond to my interlocutor, in other
words, I will either presume or conjecture a certain framework “ the traveler
framework or the pollster framework “ which enables me to place both her
and her question.That is, I presume or conjecture a framework that will situate
what she intends to learn by means of saying “Where is the Empire State
Building?”
When asked by a clergyman about why he robbed banks,Willie Sutton said,
“Well, that™s where the money is.” One thing that this miscommunication reveals
is that both the clergyman™s question and Sutton™s answer depended upon certain
assumptions. In this case, the assumptions went in different directions. Generally,
however, the assumptions of conversationalists tend to mesh. But even where they
mesh, it is nevertheless the case that assumptions underwrite conversations,
whether the assumptions in question are presumed or conjectured. Moreover, in
making these sorts of assumptions, which obtain in all conversational exchanges,
conversationalists are involved in the process of each trying to figure out what the
other intends by their words.
In many cases, the relevant assumptions may be default assumptions. If
someone with a cigarette in his mouth asks me for a match and all I have is a
lighter, I will hand him the lighter, on the assumption that he wants to ignite
his cigarette. I will do this rather than doing nothing at all on the assumption
that he, say, is a match collector. That he wants a light, in other words, is my
default assumption. Moreover, default assumptions are often not brought
before the court of consciousness, but are tacit. Nevertheless, default assump-
tions are still assumptions.They are presumed. And these presumptions consti-
tute part of what is involved in the process of figuring out what my
interlocutor has in mind. Of course, sometimes our attempts at placing the
interlocutor and his intentions will take the form of explicit conjectures. But
whether presumptions or conjectures, tacit or explicit, assumptions of these
sorts are, I maintain, a necessary ingredient in all conversational exchanges.And
if this is true, then, pace Dickie and Wilson, attempting to figure out what the
speaker intends to say is a standard feature of conversations.
Thus, my own account of conversations is not flawed, and my analogy
between artworks and conversations cannot be dismissed on the basis of my
alleged misconstrual of the nature of conversations. In “Art, Intention, and
Conversation.” I used the analogy to claim that we have conversational interests
in our commerce with artworks. These are not our only interests. But I argue
that they are central enough that our knowledge about the biography of the
THE DEBATE HYPOTHETICAL ACTUAL INTENTIONALISM 197
BETWEEN AND


historical artist and our best hypotheses about their actual intentions should
constrain our interpretations of artworks. That is, how we place the artist and
her purposes is relevant to artistic interpretations. Nothing Dickie and Wilson
have said so far demonstrates that this is false.




INTERPRETATION A N D INTENTION:
T H E DEBATE B E T W E E N HYPOTHETICAL
A N D ACTUAL INTENTIONAL I S M

Regarded for decades as a fallacy, intentionalist interpretation is beginning to
attract a following among philosophers of art.1 Broadly speaking, intentional-
ism is the doctrine that the actual intentions of artists are relevant to the inter-
pretation of the artworks they create. For intentionalists, interpretation is a
matter of explaining why artworks have the features, including meanings, that
they possess. Since artworks possess these features as a result of the actions of
artists, it seems natural to explain them, as we explain the results of actions in
general, with an eye to the intentions of the pertinent agents, who are, in this
case, artists.
Actual intentionalism holds to the conviction that interpretation with respect
to artworks is on a continuum with interpretation of intentional action in daily
life. Just as in ordinary affairs we interpret with the goal of identifying the actual
intentions of the words and deeds of others, so with respect to art the actual inten-
tions of artists are relevant to our interpretations of their productions.
Actual intentionalism, however, comes in different forms. The most extreme
form maintains that the meaning of an artwork is fully determined by the actual
intentions of the artist (or artists) who created it.2 It is this extreme form of actual
intentionalism that one suspects has encouraged the view that actual intentional-
ism is a fallacy. For this view leads to the unpalatable conclusion that the meaning
of an artwork is whatever the author intends it to mean, irrespective, if we are
talking about literary texts, of the word-sequence meaning of the text (the mean-
ing of the text derivable solely by consulting dictionaries, the rules of grammar,
and the conventions of literature). This variant of actual intentionalism is clearly
unacceptable, since it leads to what has been called “Humpty-Dumpty-ism”: the
idea that an author could make a work mean anything simply because he wills it
so “ as Humpty Dumpty tries to do when he says to Alice that “glory” means
“there™s a knockdown argument.”3 Or, to advert to nonverbal art, this view

From: Metaphilosophy, 31, nos. 1/2 (January 2000), 75“90.
198 INTERPRETATION INTENTION
AND


would, according to Monroe Beardsley, compel us to regard a blue sculpture as
pink simply because the artist says it is.4
But extreme actual intentionalism is not the only sort of intentionalism abroad
today, nor is it the form of actual intentionalism to be defended here. For conve-
nience, we can call the form of actual intentionalism to be discussed “modest
actual intentionalism.” In contrast to extreme intentionalism, modest actual inten-
tionalism does not hold that the correct interpretation of an artwork is fully deter-
mined by what the artist intended. Rather, modest actual intentionalism only
claims that the artist™s actual intentions are relevant to interpretation. Specifically,
the artist™s actual intentions constrain our interpretations of artworks.With refer-
ence to literary texts, the modest actual intentionalist argues that the correct inter-
pretation of a text is the meaning of the text that is compatible with the author™s
actual intention.5
Modest actual intentionalism blocks Humpty-Dumpty-ism because even if
Humpty Dumpty intends “glory” to mean “knockdown argument,” that is not a
meaning that the textual unit (“glory”) can have. The intentions of authors that
the modest actual intentionalist takes seriously are only those intentions of the
author that the linguistic/literary unit can support (given the conventions of lan-
guage and literature). But where the linguistic unit can support more than one
possible meaning, the modest actual intentionalist maintains that the correct inter-
pretation is the one that is compatible with the author™s actual intention, which
itself must be supportable by the language of the text.
For example, if one utters “the fish is on the bank” and intends by that to say
that the fish is on the shore, and not that it is on the steps of the Citicorp Build-
ing, then the meaning of the utterance, for the modest actual intentionalist, is “the
fish is on the shore.” Attributions of meaning, according to the modest actual
intentionalist, must be constrained not only by what possible senses the text can
support (given the conventions of language and literature), but also by our best
information about the actual intended meaning of the utterer or author in ques-
tion.Thus, if a given story could support either the interpretation that ghosts are
wreaking havoc or only that the relevant fictional characters in the story believe
that ghosts are wreaking havoc and it is known that the author intended the story
to affirm that ghosts are wreaking havoc, the modest actual intentionalist main-
tains that the correct interpretation of the text is that the ghosts are wreaking
havoc.6 For the modest actual intentionalist, the author™s intention here must
square with what he has written, but if it squares with what he has written, then
the author™s intention is authoritative.
One common complaint about all forms of actual intentionalism is that they
divert the audience away from the proper object of its attention. Instead of focus-
ing on the text, intentionalism sends the reader outside the text, searching for the
author™s intention “ perhaps in the archive where her private papers are stored.
This criticism, however, is misguided here, since the modest actual intentionalist
freely admits that the best evidence for what an utterer, artist, or author intends to
say or mean is the utterance or artwork itself. Modest actual intentionalism is not
THE DEBATE HYPOTHETICAL ACTUAL INTENTIONALISM 199
BETWEEN AND


an injunction to root for authorial meaning in hidden places. Generally, we find
authorial intention expressed in the artworks in question.
Most of our interpretive endeavors, even if we are actual intentionalists, are
aimed at the text.The point of actual intentionalism of the modest variety is the
recovery of the intentions, conscious and otherwise, of utterers and artists, but this
is consistent with close attention to the text. In fact, for the modest actual inten-
tionalist, close interpretive attention to the text is just the pursuit of the actual
intentions of the artist; it is an error to think of close attention to the text and the
search for actual intentions as opposed enterprises. Moreover, the modest actual
intentionalist also requires that putative authorial intentions be shown to square
with what is written. So the worry that modest actual intentionalism is at variance
with a textually attentive reading is groundless.
In a related vein, actual intentionalism is also frequently dismissed because it
allegedly commits the fallacy of paraphrase.The actual intentionalist, it might be
said, behaves as though what we really want from criticism is merely what the
author intends to say. But were that so, couldn™t we just e-mail her for a succinct
statement of her message? Why plow through hundreds of pages of a largish
novel, if all we are after is her view that money corrupts? But, of course, we value
the experience of navigating our way through the novel, and we would not trade
it for a compact restatement of what the novelist intended to communicate by
means of it.Thus, if actual intentionalism implies that all we care about is identi-
fying the author™s intended message, then it is charged that actual intentionalism
woefully mischaracterizes what concerns us in reading literature.
But there is no reason to suppose that the aim of modest actual intentionalism is
to substitute a paraphrase of the author™s intentions for the reading of the text.
Rather, the actual intentionalist is interested in the author™s intentions because they
will enrich the reading of the text. Grasping the author™s intentions puts us in a posi-
tion to appreciate the author™s inventiveness (or lack thereof) in structuring the text.
The aim of the modest actual intentionalist is not primarily to return home with a
paraphrase of the author™s intention as pithy as a Chinese fortune cookie, but to use
the author™s intended meaning as a resource for engaging the text.Thus, the actual
intentionalist need not commit the fallacy of paraphrase. Moreover, since engaging
the text is itself importantly a process of identifying the author™s actual intentions,
once again we see that modest actual intentionalism is consistent with the reader™s
absorption in the text and need not represent a romp outside it.
So far we have been defending modest actual intentionalism from some of the
objections leveled at it by anti-intentionalists (those for whom reference to artis-
tic intentions commits some sort of fallacy). And, in truth, much of the energy of
actual intentionalists in the past has been spent in neutralizing the criticisms of
anti-intentionalism. But in recent years another threat to actual intentionalism has
taken shape. Called hypothetical intentionalism or, sometimes, postulated autho-
rism, this view maintains that the correct interpretation or meaning of an artwork
is constrained not by the actual intentions of authors (compatible with what they
wrote), but by the best hypotheses available about what they intended.
200 INTERPRETATION INTENTION
AND


According to the hypothetical intentionalist, the meaning of a text is what an
ideal reader, fully informed about the cultural background of the text, the oeuvre of
the author, the publicly available information about the text and the author, and
the text itself, would hypothesize the intended meaning of the text to be.7 That is,
the hypothetical intentionalist claims that the meaning of the text correlates with
the hypothesized intention, not the real intention, of the author, and that inter-
preters are concerned with postulated authors, not real authors.
Epistemologically, what this comes down to is that the hypothetical intention-
alist permits the interpreter to use all the sorts of information publicly available to
the intended, appropriate reader of a text, while debarring information not pub-
licly available to said reader, such as interviews with the artist as well as his or her
private papers. Since modest actual intentionalism is open to the circumspective
use of such information, this is where hypothetical intentionalism and modest
actual intentionalism part company most dramatically.
With regard to literary texts, the hypothetical intentionalist argues that the
meaning of the text is either the meaning of the word sequences in the text, the
speaker™s meaning, or the utterance meaning. The meaning cannot be word-

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