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What Is an Intentional Fallacy?

An intentional fallacy occurs when a critic assumes an author's intention determines a text's meaning, overshadowing personal interpretation and textual evidence. This concept invites us to explore literature through our own lens, not just the creator's perspective. How might your reading experience change if you set aside the author's intent and let the story speak directly to you?
Ken Black
Ken Black

The philosophy of intentional fallacy suggests that, in literary criticism, the original meaning of the author is, perhaps, not the most important or correct interpretation of the work. In other words, there should be more freedom for the readers to interpret what they want from the information they receive. The concept is credited with first being introduced by William K. Wimsatt Jr., and Monroe Beardsley in 1946, and represents one opinion on literary criticism.

Intentional fallacy allows the readers a great deal of subjective freedom in determining what the work may say. Like anything, those readers who can make the strongest arguments to back up their points will likely receive more favorable responses. While it may seem as though this would change the meaning from what the author intended, it may or may not. If the author is clear in what is being written, readers may come to the same conclusion as the author.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Some may also apply this philosophy to other works of art, not just literature. For some works of art, interpretation is a key factor to an individual's enjoyment of that piece. Depending on how esoteric, or vague, a certain piece of art may be, it could be subject to a wide array of interpretations, especially if being viewed in a different time period than that in which it was created. Therefore, paintings, drawings, and sculptures could mean profoundly different things to different people.

Not all agree that the philosophy of intentional fallacy is correct or good. Rather, some believe the only way to truly understand a work is to try to determine the author's original intent, and the context in which it was produced. Depending on the situation, however, intentional fallacy may be a good way to come up with new and creative looks at old works.

For works of fiction and historical works, using intentional fallacy as a basis for literary criticism may provide some new insights. In some cases, the author's original intent may no longer be relevant to a reader. On the other hand, even if the original meaning is relevant, the new interpretation may better fit the reader's own personal set of circumstances.

In government, while it may not be called the same, intentional fallacy is also a philosophy some have subscribed to. Rather than trying to determine the original meaning of a legal document, such as a constitution, some may subscribe to a philosophy that discounts, at least to a certain extent, original meaning entirely. While this is not the same as a literary critique, it accomplishes the same thing philosophically, by opening up the document to reader interpretation without the limitation of trying to determine original intent.

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Discussion Comments


This article is pretty incoherent. There is no "philosophy of intentional fallacy".


How do I use intentional fallacy in a sentence?

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