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Intentionalism in aesthetics
New Literary History
  • Paisley LIVINGSTON, University of Aarhus
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Intentionalism in aesthetics is, quite generally, the thesis that the artist's or artists' intentions have a decisive role in the creation of a work of art, and that knowledge of such intentions is a necessary component of at least some adequate interpretive and evaluative claims.[1] In this paper I develop and defend this thesis. I begin with a discussion of some anti-intentionalist arguments. Surveying a range of intentionalist responses to them, I briefly introduce and criticize a fictionalist version of intentionalism before moving on to an approach I call moderate intentionalism. I consider a salient alternative known as hypothetical intentionalism and try to show why moderate intentionalism should be preferred to it. Saying what, precisely, intentions are is no small problem, and disputes in aesthetics often hinge on rival assumptions about the nature and function of intentions in general. I shall assume, in what follows, that intentions are mental states having semantic contents, various psychological functions, and practical consequences?but not always the targetted results.[2] I shall not take up any of the more global challenges to intentionalist psychology, such as eliminative materialism or macro sociological and historicist critiques.[3] I assume, then, that agents some times intend to perform an action, such as writing a poem, and that they occasionally succeed in realizing such aims, thereby intentionally doing such things as writing poems.
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Livingston, P. (1998). Intentionalism in aesthetics. New Literary History, 29(4), 831-846. doi: 10.1353/nlh.1998.0042