The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues


Intentionalists agree that the meaning of an ordinary communication is either identical to or depends heavily on what the speaker or author intended it to be. But the “or” marks a disagreement between “subjective” intentionalists, such as Larry Alexander and Richard Kay, and “objective” intentionalists such as me.

Subjective intentionalists claim that the meaning of any communication is whatever its speaker intended it to mean. Objective intentionalists find this dubious because it seems possible for the meaning that people intend to communicate to differ from the meaning they do communicate. It surely cannot be the case that, whenever we speak or write with the intention of expressing or implying something, we are guaranteed to successfully express or imply that thing simply by virtue of having that intention. People can intend to say or imply something but fail to do so, and conversely, they can say or imply something they did not intend. When we are told that we have misunderstood what someone meant, we often defend ourselves by replying: “I now realize what she meant to say, but that’s not what she did say,” or “He may not have intended to imply that, but he did.” Subjective intentionalists must deny that such replies can be strictly correct: if the meaning of someone’s utterance is identical to the meaning she intends it to have, then she can only appear to, but cannot really, say something other than what she intends to say. That





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