On some problems with weak intentionalism for intellectual history.
History and Theory, 41(2),
This paper argues that the notion of weak intentionalism in Mark Bevir's The Logic of the History of Ideas is incoherent. Bevir's proposal for weak intentionalism as procedural individualism relies on the argument that the object of study for historians of ideas is given by the beliefs that are expressed by individuals (whether authors or readers) since these beliefs constitute the historical meaning of the work for those individuals as historical figures. Historical meanings are thus hermeneutic meanings. In the case of insincere, unconscious, and irrational beliefs, however, the beliefs expressed by individuals are not in fact their actual beliefs, and their actual beliefs are now taken to be those expressed by the works. It thus turns out that it is not the beliefs expressed by individuals that are the object of study for historians but the works themselves, since the overriding requirement for historians of ideas is to “make sense of their material” and it is this requirement that determines whether or not the beliefs are to be construed as expressed by individuals or by the works. But once it is accepted that the beliefs that are the object of study for historians are expressed by the works and not by individuals, the original argument that such beliefs are historical hermeneutic meanings for historical figures no longer applies. The argument for weak intentionalism thus turns out to be incoherent. Bevir's argument fails to establish that the object of study for the history of ideas is external to the works, and the attempted distinction between interpreting a work and reading a text also fails.
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