Monroe Beardsley

Monroe Beardsley (1915-1985) was an American literary critic. Beardsley was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was educated at Yale University (B.A. 1936, Ph.D. 1939), where he received the John Addison Porter Prize.

He taught at a number of colleges and universities including Mount Holyoke College and Yale University. His wife and occasional co-author, Elizabeth Lane Beardsley, was also a philosopher at Temple.

He is known to have written two seminal essays, “Intentional Fallacy” and “Affective Fallacy”. Intentional fallacy states that a work of art should not be evaluated from the intention of the author or what the author had intended. In other words, a work of art is independent of an author’s authority. A text should be liberated from the shackles of author-worship.

The intentional fallacy also allows more freedom to read or evaluate text as an object in itself. Thus it allows a readership that is free and uninhibited by details about the author’s life. Intentional fallacy paves the way for a readership which detached itself from external sources. It was also said external sources such as documents pertaining to the author’s biography.   

Affective Fallacy states that a work of art should not be evaluated by the emotional effect that it can have on the reader. It is defined as the error of evaluating a text through the emotional response of the reader to the text.

It means that text should be liberated from the emotions of the reader. The reading of the text should not be tainted by the sentiments of the reader. It again argues that the act of reading should be pure and free from the wish of readers to impose their feelings on the meanings within a text.

It means that the act of readership should be critically informed rather than emotionally driven. Readers must not be emotionally attached to the text. Readers must have a sense of critical distance from emotions and sentiments.

The site of reading should be based upon intelligence or intellect. Both Intentional and Affective Fallacy attempt to liberate reading of a text from pre-occupied notions around the text.

According to this theory, the act of reading should be based on intelligence rather than sentiment or political issues. In a way, the theory is very different from New Historicism where a text can never be read in isolation from history. Other notable works of Monroe Beardsley include Practical Logic, 1950, Aesthetics: A Short History, 1966.