The Conversation Argument for Actual Intentionalism

British Journal of Aesthetics 52 (3):241-256 (2012)
Abstract
Proponents of actual intentionalism hold that an author’s actual intentions should constrain the proper interpretation of his or her works. If, for example, we have good reason to think Proust intends his character Marcel to set out to write a different novel from In Search of Lost Time itself, then that is how we should interpret the text. After decades of being denigrated as the ‘intentional fallacy’, actual intentionalism has enjoyed a renaissance in philosophical aesthetics in recent years, thanks in large part to the image of the conversation that has been enlisted in its favour: when we neglect the author’s intended construal of the text and opt instead for some clever alternative interpretation of our own, we are depriving ourselves of the chance to engage in a conversation (in some metaphorical sense) with this author—and thus are losing the chance (again, in some metaphorical sense) to commune with another human being. In this paper I will raise doubts about whether this appeal to conversation actually helps the actual intentionalist’s case. When we reflect on the essentially interactive nature of any conversation worthy of that name, we see that this conversation metaphor will not deliver the restrictive lesson of actual intentionalism. In fact, it militates against it
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