Meaning, expression, and the interpretation of literature

Paul A. Taylor*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    I argue that when we interpret a literary work, we engage with at least two different kinds of meaning, each requiring a distinct mode of interpretation. These kinds of meaning are literary varieties of what Paul Grice called nonnatural and natural meaning. The long-standing debate that began with Beardsley and Wimsatt's attack on the intentional fallacy is, I argue, really a debate about nonnatural meaning in literature. I contend that natural meaning has been largely neglected in our theorizing about literary interpretation and that this comes at a serious cost, resulting in an inadequate account of what interpretation involves. I argue, first, that by recognizing that literary meaning includes both nonnatural and natural meaning, we are better placed to understand the interpreter's relationship with the author, and, second, that recognition of the distinction between nonnatural and natural meaning advances the established debate about literary meaning, offering support for actual intentionalism. The more inclusive view of literary meaning helps resolve an apparent difficulty raised by Noël Carroll.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)379-391
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2014


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