In this master essay, Wimsatt and Beardsley call out readers who just go through texts hoping to figure out what their authors really meant. According to these. In Aesthetics, Beardsley develops a philosophy of art that is sensitive .. In “The Intentional Fallacy,” he says that the intentions of the artist are. Intentional Fallacy. William K. Wimsatt Jr. & Monroe C. Beardsley., revised in. The claim of the author’s “intention” upon the critic’s judgement has been chal-.

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He taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Mt. Beardsley is best known for his work in aesthetics—and this article will deal exclusively with his work in that area—but he was an extremely intellectually curious man, and published articles in a number of areas, including the philosophy of history, action theory, and the history of modern philosophy.

Three books and a number of articles form the core of Beardsley’s work in aesthetics. Of the books, the first, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism ; reissued with a postscript,is by far the most substantial, comprehensive, and influential. More than that, it’s also the first systematic, well-argued, and critically informed philosophy of art in the analytic tradition.

Given the wide range of topics covered in Aestheticsthe intelligent and philosophically informed treatment accorded them, the historically unprecedented nature of the work, and its effect on subsequent developments in the field, a number of philosophers, including some of Beardsley’s critics, have argued that Aesthetics is the most impressive and important book of 20 th century analytic aesthetics.

The Possibility of Criticismthe second of the three books, is more modest in scope and less groundbreaking. Exclusively concerned with literary criticism, it limits itself to four problems: The last of the books, The Aesthetic Point of Viewis a collection of papers, most old, some new.

Fourteen papers, largely on the nature of the aesthetic and art criticism, are reprinted, and six new pieces are added. The new pieces are of special interest, because they constitute Beardsley’s final word on the topics covered, and the topics are themselves central ones: In AestheticsBeardsley develops a philosophy of art that is sensitive to three things: To explain each of these elements further: Marxist, Formalist, psychoanalytic, semiotic, historical, biographical.

Analytic philosophy, with its emphasis on language and strong empiricist tendencies, had gained ascendancy in American universities in little more than 20 years, and dominated the philosophical scene.

Authorial intent

Beardsley responded to each of the three. His position on developments in the arts is probably best described as open-minded moderation. He welcomed new developments, and reference to new works and works that lack the luster of fame, notoriety, or ready recognition appear frequently in Aesthetics and his other work. He didn’t automatically embrace the latest fad, fashion, or movement, however, but tried, as he said, to get something out of a work. As for art criticism, the school of criticism that attracted Beardsley, and that his philosophy of art ultimately underwrites, is the so-called New Criticism.

The New Criticism made the literary work the center of critical attention, and denied, or at least greatly devaluated, the relevance of facts about the origin of literary works, their effects upon individual readers, and their personal, social, and political influence. Close reading is what is required of a critic, not biographical information about the author, a rundown of the state of society at the time the work was written, data about the psychology of creation, predictions about the effects of the work on society, and certainly not a piece of autobiography detailing the critic’s own personal response to the work.

Though based in literary criticism, the New Criticism could be, and should be, extended to the other arts, Beardsley thought: Developments in philosophy were a different story.

Beardsley embraced a general form of analytic philosophy not heavily influenced by either logical positivism or ordinary language philosophy, the dominant movements of the time. For him, an analytic approach to the philosophy of art meant no more than critically examining the fundamental concepts and beliefs underlying art and art criticism.

Doing philosophy of that sort required clarity, precision, and a good eye for identifying, exposing, and evaluating arguments, but left aesthetics, as a systematic study, a real possibility.

Not all the arts could be covered in detail in even so long a book as Aesthetics —it’s over pages—so Beardsley had to content himself with concentrating on three relatively disparate arts: In keeping with the conception of philosophy mentioned above, aesthetics was thought of as meta-criticism.


Authorial intent – Wikipedia

The then-current and still bearxsley view that philosophy is a second-order, meta-level, and essentially linguistic activity, taking as its object of study the pronouncements of first-order activities, such as chemistry, religion, or history, is reflected in Beardsley’s view on the nature of aesthetics.

Critical statements are of three kinds, Beardsley thinks: The first concerns non-normative properties of works of art that are simply in geardsley, in some sense, and are available, at least in principle, to anyone of normal eyes and ears if sufficiently sensitive, attentive, and experienced.

Thou shalt not kill. The first chapter of Aesthetics is in part devoted to the ontology of art—or aesthetic objects, as Beardsley was then wont to say. The ontology argued for begins with a distinction between physical objects and perceptual objects. In speaking of a thing being six feet by six feet in size and at rest, we’re speaking of a physical object; in speaking of a thing being dynamic and frightening, we’re speaking of a perceptual object.

Aesthetic objects are a subset of perceptual objects. This doesn’t necessarily mean that aesthetic objects aren’t physical objects, however. The ontology is phenomenalistic in its leanings, though open to a more physicalistic interpretation.

A presentation of an aesthetic object is defined as the object as experienced by a particular person on a particular occasion. Essentially, presentations are sense-data of aesthetic objects.

Aesthetic objects aren’t presentations, however, for that would invite not just an uncontrollable population explosion of aesthetic objects, but chaos in criticism; and neither are intentionql objects classes of presentations, for aesthetic objects must have at least some perceptual properties, but classes, as abstract entities, have none.

In effect, this is a form of linguistic phenomenalism, and commits Beardsley to meaning-preserving bearsley of statements about aesthetic objects into statements about the presentations of such objects—in effect, statements about experiences afllacy such objects.

Not satisfied with this, Beardsley presses on to distinguish a the artifact—the play itself, say, as written down—from b a particular production of it—the Old Vic’s production, as opposed to the Marquette University theater department’s production—from c a particular performance of it—last night’s performance in the Haelfer Theater—from d a particular presentation of it—the play as it shows up in Peter Alelyunas’s experience of it, upon attending last night’s performance.

The same distinctions hold across the gallacy, though differently in different arts, and somewhat more naturally in some than others. There is Beethoven’s D Minor Symphony the artifacta production of it The Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra’s recording of ita particular performance of it my playing the recording last night, in my houseand particular presentations of it mine and other people’s experiences of it last night, in my house.

At least in many arts, a single artifact can have many productions; a single production can have many performances; and a single performance can give rise to many presentations.

As Beardsley notes, these distinctions collapse to some extent in some of the arts, and would have to inttentional stretched a bit to fit them all. But what is the aesthetic object, the object of critical attention? It’s not a presentation or class of presentations, and it’s not the artifact—Beethoven’s 9th Symphonyfor example.

If the aesthetic object were the artifact, it would have contradictory characteristics, since different recordings of the 9th have different, incompatible characteristics: What’s left, and what intenfional aesthetic object must be, is the production.

Thus the primary object of critical attention is the production of an artifact, and the basic job intenional the critic is to describe, interpret, and evaluate such productions. Although Beardsley’s early views on bearrsley tended to either linguistic phenomenalism or unsystematic pluralism—some productions are physical objects, some mental objects, and some physical events—there were hints, event at that time, of a simpler and more commonsensical view.

The ontology can be seen lurking beneath the surface of his postulates of art criticism:. A number of the postulates—2, 4, and 6; possibly 3 and 7—are in fact prima facie incompatible with a sense-datum ontology. Rather, what strongly suggest is that a work of art is a physical object: The materialism is non-reductive, in that works of art have properties that physical objects generally don’t.

The musical composition isn’t any single score or performance, the poem any single printed text. For that reason, Fallach once faplacy is driven back in the direction of ontological pluralism: He later did offer a definition, however, and, ibtentional surprisingly, a neo-Romantic and intentionalistic one.


This definition doesn’t say that a work of art is intended to provide or be capable of providing a full-blown aesthetic experience. It also doesn’t say that a work of art doesn’t or can’t have a utilitarian function, in the everyday sense of the intentionxl.

A work of art could be a chair that’s many times simply sat in, for example. And, last, it doesn’t say that the primary intention behind the creation of the artifact is an aesthetic one. The primary intention behind the creation of a religious icon, bearxsley example, could be to bring worshippers closer to God. The second part of the definition picks up those objects that definitely are works of art, but were created in a mechanical, almost an assembly-line fashion, or as just another instance of its kind.


Some beautiful vases may fall into the first class, and many medieval icons into the second. To make sure that the extension of the definiens matches that of the definiendumBeardsley thinks, the second disjunct of the definition is needed.

But why accept the definition? For a number of reasons, according to Beardsley. The fields Beardsley has in mind, more than any other, falllacy art history and anthropology. That Beardsley’s does in spades, directly defining art in terms of the aesthetic as it does. Despite his many books and articles, Beardsley is probably best known for his very first article in aesthetics. Wimsatt and published in and widely re-printed, e.

More precisely, the issue can put in terms of the relation between. That’s one end of the spectrum on the relation between 1 and 2. Beardsley sits at the other end.

He holds that the intentions of the artist aren’t relevant to the interpretation of a work of art at all. An artist’s intentions have nothing to do with what a work means.

Beardsley was in fact more than consistent on the issue of the intentional fallacy; he also held that. An inttentional intentions are utterly irrelevant to the descriptive, interpretive, and evaluative properties of his work. Beardsley’s arguments against intentionalism in interpretation are of a variety of sorts.

Since we frequently can and do correctly interpret a work of art with little or no knowledge about the artist, the fact that the artist’s intentions aren’t always available is enough to show that Hirsch’s position is wrong. It is only because an artifact works that we infer the intention of the artificer ….

In other words, a poem or other work of art is independent of its creator, just as any other artifact—a pudding or a washing machine—is. Untentional pudding consists of milk, eggs, and other ingredients, a washing machine of a metal drum, rubber gaskets, and other parts, and a poem of words.

In all three cases, the parts exist and are what they are independently of the artificers, and the artifacts are to be judged—and interpreted—on the basis of their properties.

There’s bfardsley need to bring in the artificer. In Aestheticsthe attack is a little different. Or should we say, in the spirit of Alice confronting the extreme semantic conventionalism [intentionalism] of Humpty Dumpty, that the question is whether that object can be made to mean Human Destiny? In addition to sculpture, the irrelevance of the author intentilnal the meaning of his text is also argued for by Beardsley, though only partly by counterexample.

Thus an author can be wrong about what his intentjonal work means. In The Possibility of Criticismthree arguments are offered faklacy intentionalism, which is again taken to be the view that the meaning of a work of art is what the artist intends it to mean.

What Beardsley has in mind is the kind of verbal mistake made at a publishing house, or by a computer in scanning a document. But the author cannot change his meaning after he has died.

Therefore, textual meaning is not identical to the authorial meaning. Therefore, it can have meanings that its author did not intend.