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sequence meaning for a number of reasons, including the phenomenon of irony.
The meaning cannot be speaker™s meaning, because this would not allow for the
fact that sometimes authors fail to mean by a text what they intend to mean by it;
to suppose that the meaning of the text in such cases is speaker™s meaning would
be tantamount to a reversion to Humpty-Dumpty-ism. That leaves utterance
meaning as the meaning of the text “ the meaning of the text that an ideally
informed reader would attribute to the text given the context of utterance.
Utterance meaning, inasmuch as it is a speech act, requires intentions, but the
intention in question is a hypothesized intention. It may not be the author™s gen-
uine intention, but only, in context, the most plausibly hypothesized intention
thereof. Such intentions require authors, but the author is a postulated or con-
structed author, that is, the author we infer in order to explain the features of the
text “ where our inferences (or postulations or constructions) are based not only
on the language of the text, but also on information about the genre of the text,
the author™s past work, and what is publicly available concerning the author™s
career. Determining the meaning of an utterance on a particular occasion requires
more than knowledge about the dictionary meanings of the words used to make
the utterance. It requires knowledge of the context of the utterance, including
certain knowledge about the speaker.
By modeling literary meaning on utterance meaning, the hypothetical inten-
tionalist acknowledges the relevance of context, bidding the ideal interpreter to
heed not only word-sequence meaning, but also all the relevant contextual infor-
mation, including knowledge about the art-historical context, about the genre in
question, about the author™s past works, and, in addition, common, publicly avail-
able information about the life of the artist (e.g., that he was a freedom fighter or
is a Republican).The relevant intention for purposes of interpretation is the one
that the fully informed, ideal reader would hypothesize on the basis of such
THE DEBATE HYPOTHETICAL ACTUAL INTENTIONALISM 201
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knowledge (while, at the same time, ignoring the author™s private pronounce-
ments about his or her intentions).
For example, in the concluding pages of The Ground beneath Her Feet, Salman
Rushdie writes of the assassination of a rai singer who has gone into exile to
escape a worldwide plot to “wipe out singing altogether.” Since “Rai” is also the
name of the fictional narrator of the book and since it is widely known that
Rushdie himself had to go into hiding in order to evade the vengeance of fanat-
ics, the hypothetical intentionalist, considering the language of the text and
Rushdie™s public biography, can plausibly hypothesize that the passage is an allu-
sion to Rushdie™s own experience.
Obviously the hypothetical intentionalist and the modest actual intentionalist
appeal to much of the same evidence. Since the modest actual intentionalist is
committed to discerning the author™s actual intentions, he too relies on word-
sequence meaning, context, the author™s oeuvre, the author™s public biography, and
so on, in order to arrive at an interpretation. Thus, since the hypothetical inten-
tionalist and the modest actual intentionalist depend on much the same evidence,
they generally deliver the same interpretations.8 However, there are imaginable
cases when the results of the two methods will diverge.
Suppose I utter “The fish is on the bank” while standing on the steps of the
Citicorp Building with a large trout clearly in view behind me. Here, the ideal lis-
tener will interpret the utterance as “The fish is on the financial institution.” On
the other hand, if the actual intentionalist learns from me that what I truly
intended by my utterance was “The fish is on the shore,” then the actual inten-
tionalist will endorse that as the interpretation of the meaning of my utterance.
For that is the intended meaning of my utterance, which is, furthermore, compat-
ible with what I said.The hypothetical intentionalist maintains that the meaning
of the utterance is the one best warranted given the context of utterance without
authorial pronouncements, but the actual intentionalist argues that even the
hypothesis best warranted on those grounds can be false.
What putatively recommends hypothetical intentionalism over actual intention-
alism? The hypothetical intentionalist raises two considerations.The first reason is one
we have already encountered: that approaches like actual intentionalism have no way
to accommodate the fact that authors can fail to communicate what they intend, and
that modest actual intentionalism has no way of dealing with this fact.The second
consideration is more complex. It is that hypothetical intentionalism does a better job
of reflecting our actual interpretive practices than does modest actual intentionalism.
Jerrold Levinson writes that hypothetical intentionalism

acknowledges the special interests, and attendant constraints of the practice
or activity of literary communication, according to which works “ provided
they are interpreted with maximal attention to relevant author-specific
context ¦ “ are ultimately more important than, and distinct from, the
individuals who author them and those individual™s inner lives; works of
literature thus retain, in the last analysis, a certain autonomy from the men-
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tal processes of their creators during composition at least as far as resultant
meaning is concerned. It is this small but crucial dimension of distinctness
between agent™s meaning and work™s meaning ¦ which is obliterated by
actual intentionalism but safe-guarded by the hypothetical variety.9

These are significant objections. However, before returning to them, I will
begin to sketch the case for modest actual intentionalism against hypothetical
intentionalism.
Whereas hypothetical intentionalism claims that literary interpretation and
everyday interpretation are distinct, modest actual intentionalism argues that they
are importantly continuous practices. Outside the literary and artistic contexts, we
generally interpret utterances, gestures, and other forms of symbolic behavior
with an eye to retrieving authorial intentions. Modest actual intentionalism takes
literary and artistic interpretation to be on a par with ordinary interpretation.
The hypothetical intentionalist maintains that literary and artistic practices are
discontinuous with our ordinary practices and says that, in consequence, our
interpretations have different aims. In the ordinary course of events, the hypothet-
ical intentionalist concedes, our interpretations aspire to discover actual inten-
tions, but in literary and artistic contexts, hypothesized intentions, as postulated by
ideal readers, suffice.
But why suppose that there is a discontinuity between ordinary interpretation
and artistic interpretation? Interpretation is part and parcel of human life.We fall
back on it in order to conduct our social life with conspecifics and for strategic
purposes when confronting predators, prey, and human friends and enemies.
Some interpretive powers are probably biologically innate, naturally selected for
adaptiveness, while many others are refined and developed through enculturation
where they are also ineliminably adaptive. However, these interpretive skills are all
aimed at detecting the actual intentions and/or behavioral dispositions of con-
specifics, predators, prey, and the like. Interpretive skills, as adaptive endowments,
would make little sense otherwise.That is why our interpretive powers were and
are keyed to discerning actual intentions.
The arts themselves are, among other things, celebrations of our human pow-
ers. Like the dancer, we walk, run, and leap “ and sometimes we execute fancy
footwork to avoid an oncoming bicycle or to scoot to the head of the line.
Dancers interest us because they display these capacities (and more) at particularly
high levels of accomplishment.They show us what human grace can be not only
so that we can compare what they do with what we do (and, perhaps, garner some
tips from them), but also so that we can contemplate the possibilities of common
human powers. Since we all communicate and express ourselves through word
and gesture, we admire poets, singers, and actors who exhibit human expressive
possibilities operating at full throttle.
Moreover, in a similar vein, I would like to suggest that we are interested in lit-
erary and artistic interpretations because they too exemplify highly developed
skills that we all deploy constantly in our everyday commerce with our con-
THE DEBATE HYPOTHETICAL ACTUAL INTENTIONALISM 203
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specifics and with their communicative and expressive behaviour.And those skills,
at base, are dedicated to detecting the actual intentions of our conspecifics.
Thus, the modest actual intentionalist sees literary and artistic interpretation
on a continuum with ordinary interpretive practices, which are aimed at tracking
actual intentions. Certainly, even the hypothetical intentionalist must agree that
our practices of literary and artistic interpretation evolved from our practices of
everyday interpretation “ which practices, needless to say, function to detect actual
intentions. Of course, the hypothetical intentionalist may claim that artistic and
literary interpretation has become detached from the practices that gave rise to it.
But that conjecture itself raises a number of questions.
The first question is:Why did the practices of literary and artistic interpre-
tation become detached from the ordinary practices of interpretation? What
new purposes are served that supersede the natural purposes of ordinary inter-
pretation? Hypothetical intentionalists have not been very forthcoming about
this matter. It cannot be that pursuing hypothetical intentions is more pleasur-
able than pursuing actual intentions, since both approaches employ much the
same methodology. Sometimes, in this context, it is said that we value the
activity of literary and artistic interpretation for its own sake. But that hardly
seems to be an explanation; rather, it sounds like an evasion.And, as we shall see
later, many literary interpreters would appear ready to resist the claims that
they engage in exegesis for its own sake rather than for the sake of recovering
authorial intentions.
Second, the hypothetical intentionalist is in an extremely poor position to
claim that artistic and literary interpretations aim at different purposes than ordi-
nary interpretation “ for the simple reason that the interpretive considerations
that the hypothetical intentionalist recommends are roughly the same as those the
modest actual intentionalist recommends: attention to the text, to the author™s oeu-
vre, to the culture context, to the author™s publicly available biography, and so on.
Why are these the desiderata that the modest actual intentionalist emphasizes?
Because they are the sorts of things that provide a reliable indication of the
author™s actual intentions.Attention to these factors is what enables us to track the
author™s actual intentions.Thus, the very methodology of hypothetical intention-
alism seems predicated upon tracking actual authorial intention. Indeed, why else
would it select precisely the desiderata it does? Consequently, it does not seem
that hypothetical intentionalism is calibrated to satisfy different aims than is actual
intentionalism, and, therefore, it does not seem to make much sense to claim that
it serves a different purpose than does actual intentionalism “ which purpose, of
course, is identifying the actual intentions of the author, not merely his or her
plausibly hypothesized intentions.
Hypothetical intentionalism identifies the correct interpretation with what-
ever the ideal reader identifies as the author™s hypothetical intention, whereas
modest actual intentionalism goes with the author™s actual intention (where it is
supported by the text), should that diverge from what the ideal reader hypothe-
sizes. However, it is somewhat perplexing that hypothetical intentionalism recom-
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mends going with the ideal reader™s hypothesis, since the methodology of hypo-
thetical intentionalism is itself designed to track the author™s actual intention.
Consider an analogy. We employ scientific method in order to approximate
the truth.Were we to discover that our best scientific hypothesis were false “ that
something else were the case “ would we stick with a methodologically sound but
false hypothesis, or would we go with what we knew to be true? Clearly, the very
aims of science would recommend that we live with the truth. Similarly, where
actual intentionalism and hypothetical intentionalism diverge in their results,
given the comparable aims of their methodologies, why would we stick with the
results of the hypothetical intentionalist™s interpretation when a true account of an
author™s actual intention is available?
As already observed, the desiderata the hypothetical intentionalist respects are
all designed to deliver our best approximation of the author™s actual intention.
Thus, if we establish the author™s intention by means unavailable to the hypothet-
ical intentionalist “ perhaps through the discovery of the author™s notebook “ isn™t
that the result that we should care about? Otherwise, we appear to be fetishizing
our method over what the method is designed to secure.
I submit that we respect the interpretive protocols the hypothetical inten-
tionalist cherishes because they are reliable indicators of actual intentions.The
hypothetical intentionalist provides no other reasons for our acceptance of just
the sorts of information he emphasizes. It is true that the hypothetical inten-
tionalist™s protocols yield hypotheses about authorial intentions, but they are
plausible hypotheses about actual intentions, not hypotheses about plausible
possible intentions.
The method of hypothetical intentionalism is parasitic on the aims of actual
intentionalism. That is, we attend to the things to which the hypothetical
intentionalist adverts because interpretation, or at least intentionalist interpre-
tation, aims at recovering actual intentions.That is what our interpretive prac-
tices are designed to track. If those generally reliable methods are sometimes
supplemented by other creditable resources “ such as the author™s correspon-
dence “ why should those further resources be ignored, if they supply a more
effective means to our ends?
Recall that the modest actual intentionalist is not using this evidence to claim
that a text means something that the written text fails to support. He employs the
author™s intention to fix a meaning to the text that the text could have. He simply
goes beyond the evidence permitted by the method of hypothetical intentional-
ism “ a method that is, admittedly, quite warranted. But as in science, even a well-
justified methodology can fail to zero in on the truth.
Here the hypothetical intentionalist may wish to dispute the analogy with sci-
ence. A realist epistemology makes sense in science, he might say, because there is
a fact of the matter that is independent of the best-warranted theories. But with
respect to literature, it is claimed, there is no difference between our best interpre-
tation of the text and the meaning of the text. But this claim appears to be either
false or question-begging.
THE DEBATE HYPOTHETICAL ACTUAL INTENTIONALISM 205
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It seems false, since it is eminently conceivable that our best interpretation of
a text from a remote ancient civilization could diverge from the utterance mean-
ing of the text. But if the hypothetical intentionalist responds that there can be no
gap because our best hypothesis, following his protocols of interpretation, is the
meaning of the text, then all he has done is to reaffirm the claims of hypothetical
intentionalism.
In effect, what the hypothetical intentionalist has done is to substitute the
notion of warranted assertibility for truth when it comes to literary interpretation.
But since we need not accept this relativizing move with respect to other forms of
inquiry, it is not evident that we need to make it with respect to literary texts and
artworks. We are interested in warranted assertions because they generally track
truth.Thus, we are interested in warranted assertions (justifiable hypotheses) about
authorial intentions because they are good indications of actual authorial inten-
tions. So, if we come upon the author™s actual intention, even if it departs from our
best theory of it, then that is what we should prefer.Though Sir Richard Burton™s
criticisms of John Hanning Speke may have been methodologically sound, never-
theless it is to Speke that we owe the discovery of the headwaters of the Nile.
Hypothetical intentionalists may attempt to advance their approach by argu-
ing that it accurately describes what literary interpreters do. They construct
hypotheses about authorial intentions, ones that are presumably open to revision
with the onset of further information. They don™t pretend to be mind readers;
they don™t have cerebroscopes that enable them to peer into the minds of authors.
Their interpretations are hypotheses, conjectures, or constructions.And, of course,
the modest actual intentionalist agrees with this, but adds that they are hypotheses
about actual intentions.Thus, when literary interpreters explore texts by consider-
ing not only their language, but also their historical context, the author™s oeuvre,
the author™s public biography, and the like, they are behaving exactly in the way
that the modest actual intentionalist predicts. Their behavior in regard to what
they typically view as their primary data base does not favor hypothetical inten-
tionalism over modest actual intentionalism.
The book reviewer interpreting a new novel looks in all the places the hypothet-
ical intentionalist advises and comes up with a hypothesis, rather than hiring a private
detective to rifle through the author™s trash for secret statements of intention. But this
is a hypothesis about the author™s actual intention, not about some theoretical fiction
that might be called a hypothetical or constructed or postulated intention.
Reading in accordance with the protocols of hypothetical intentionalism is sim-
ply reading for actual intentions, as the hypothetical intentionalist himself admits.
However, the hypothetical intentionalist regards this search for actual authorial intent
as a “heuristic.”10 And yet if hypothetical intentionalism is supposed to reflect our
actual practices of interpretation, it must be noted that many pedigreed interpreters
do not act as though they regard the goal of determining actual authorial intention as
merely heuristic.They appear to regard it as their final goal.
Some hypothetical intentionalists speak of postulated authors rather than
hypothesized intentions. The aim of interpretation on this view is to construct
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