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Intentional Fallacy

William K. Wimsatt (1907-1975) was an American literary theorist and professor. Wimsatt’s The Verbal Icon, 1954, was co-written by Beardsley. In this book, Wimsatt brought out the idea of “Intentional Fallacy”.

Intentional Fallacy refers to the error of evaluating a work by the intention of an author. It is based upon a rejection of the omniscience of an author over a text. It argues that an author’s intention or design should not influence the reading of a text.

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It further argues that a work of art should not be evaluated through what the author had intended for the same. The implication is the evaluation of a text is independent of the author’s intent. It also means that the act of reading is an autonomous activity which is not controlled by the author’s intent.

So the act of reading becomes an aesthetic, self-serving function which is not influenced by external factors such as author’s biography. Intentional Fallacy tells that the relationship between a text and its audience is independent of the author’s presence. It liberates the act of readership from the omniscience of the author.

Affective Fallacy

Wimsatt brought forward another theory which was called “Affective Fallacy”. Affective Fallacy refers to the error of evaluating a text through the emotional response of the reader. It means that a reader should not be driven by emotional impact to evaluate or understand a text.

The act of reading should be critically informed instead of emotionally driven. So the act of reading should not be tainted by feelings of the reader for the text. The act of reading should be pure and must maintain a certain level of clinical accuracy rather than sentimental indulgence on reader’s side.

Readership should have a level of critical distance from the emotional impact of the text. At the same time readership should be rooted in the mind rather than the heart. The act of reading is a cerebral activity instead of an emotional activity. 

The Concrete Universal

 Wimsatt also brought forward the idea of “The Concrete Universal”. It refers to a degree of precision that does not contribute anything to the argument but it is for its own sake. It implies that “the concrete universal” is aesthetic rather than practical in nature.

In the “Domain of Criticism”, Wimsatt argues against the idea of reducing a poem or artistic entity to a purely aesthetical mode. Here, he argued that artistic entity should not be reduced to only aesthetical effects.  

Notable works of William K. Wimsatt include Hateful Contraries(1965), The Verbal Icon, (1954).