In their article "The Intentional Fallacy," Wimsatt and Beardsley argue against the traditional reliance on authorial intention as a basis for critical judgment in poetry and literature as a whole. They reject the idea of the author as the ultimate authority on their work and propose that the critic's role should be focused on analyzing the internal workings of the literary piece.
According to Wimsatt and Beardsley, the poem itself is of primary importance as a literary artifact, separate from the author's psychological state or biography. They criticize the approach that gives excessive importance to authorial intentions and suggest that it leads to arbitrary evaluations and unproductive speculation.
While not explicitly invoking "science" as Eichenbaum did in his explanation of the Formalist method, Wimsatt and Beardsley criticize "intentionalists" for engaging in unscientific approaches to literature. They argue that the quest to determine authorial intentions is futile and that the judgment of literature requires ongoing critical inquiry rather than seeking definitive answers.
The authors challenge the common sense and critical tradition that prioritize external factors such as authorial intentions or circumstances of production. They advocate for a focus on internal evidence, which encompasses the language of the poem and the broader knowledge of language and literature. By emphasizing the self-sufficiency and autonomy of the literary work, they align with the aims of the Formalist method.
Wimsatt and Beardsley reject the notion of an omniscient authorial authority and argue that the evaluation of works of art belongs to the public domain. They assert that the poem belongs to the public and is part of the shared knowledge and language of humanity. However, some may argue that literature possesses and influences the public as much as the public possesses it.
The authors present the poem as an object sufficient unto itself, but some may argue for a negotiation of meaning between the literary work and its audience. They also do not address the role of authorial intention inscribed in the literary work itself or the intentionality of literary production in creating new forms.