Art and Intention: A Philosophical Study Paisley Livingston


In aesthetics, the topic of intentions comes up most often in the perennial debate between intentionalists and anti-intentionalists over standards of interpretation. The underlying assumptions about the nature and functions of intentions are, however, rarely explicitly developed, even though divergent and at times tendentious premises are often relied upon in this controversy. Livingston provides a survey of contentions about the nature and status of intentions and intentionalist psychology more generally, arguing for an account that recognizes the multiple functions fulfilled by intentions in the lives of temporally situated agents who deliberate over what to do, settle on ends and means, and try to realize some of their plans. Artists’ intentions are the same sorts of attitudes that we attribute to ourselves and to others as we attempt to describe, explain, and predict our actions. As such, intentions are relevant not only to debates over the interpretation of works of art but also to a range of other basic topics in the philosophy of art, including artistic creation and authorship, the ontology of art, the nature of texts, works, versions, and life-works, and the status and nature of fiction and fictional truth. With regard to the controversy over the interpretation of art, Livingston advocates a ‘partial’ intentionalism. Intentions are never infallible, so there is a conceptual gap between the completed work and the intentions that initiated and guided its making. Yet in spite of the fallibility of intentions and of our beliefs and claims about them, intentions regularly contribute to the determination of a work’s features, including implicit meanings, the recognition of which requires the uptake of the artist’s intentional design. Partial intentionalism also finds support in the idea that at least one sort of artistic value depends on the artist’s skilful accomplishment of intentions.

Art and Intention

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