The project of describing how people understand each other’s unspoken motivations, beliefs, commitments, and intentions had been housed in departments of linguistics or philosophy until about twenty-five years ago, when some developmental cognitive scientists intervened with different kinds of arguments and evidence. As part of the same broad movement toward academic interdisciplinarity, several young philosophers and some literary scholars have begun to visit the laboratories of psychologists, neurologists, and evolutionary biologists to learn and also to develop joint research projects, using older and newer theories of mind to advantage. Although a full-scale comparison of all the work in the separate and combined fields cannot be attempted here, I would like to make some preliminary comments about the relationship among philosophical and cognitive theories of understanding intentionality, pointing to particular strengths and weaknesses which bear on their usefulness to literary studies. My claim is that their gaps and their complementarity can be seen with particular clarity when they are used to describe interpretive failures in a complex literary text such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

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