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Historical Interpretation, Intentionalism and Philosophy of Mind

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Historiographic debates keep returning to issues of authorial intention in the interpretation of texts. This paper offers a response to these debates by differentiating between two versions of intentionalism, termed 'substantive intentionalism' and 'formal intentionalism', according to two different senses of 'identity' in the thesis that assigned meaning is identified with authorial intention, such that these two versions of intentionalism imply different ontological commitments to what are construed as the relevant authorial intentions. These distinctions and arguments are then related to the 'historical intentionalism' of Quentin Skinner and Mark Bevir. The paper argues that in practice historical intentionalism ends up reproducing the arguments of formal intentionalism, and it concludes by raising questions about the value of intentionalism for historians.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK


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