But there are many ways to be an intentionalist. Time is always limited, of course, but each of the various historical predecessors I sketched a moment ago offers distinct nuances, and mentioning them reminds us of the sheer variety of positions—about what’s possible, about where the challenges lie, about where the accent should go—that have been available to thinkers trying to understand intentions in a material world.
Do we really need Wittgenstein? It depends. I think that literary scholars today really ought to have a workable understanding of Wittgenstein’s vision of language, for it provides a vital and distinctive alternative to other views on the same matters, views that are widely taught. For the same reason, I think literary scholars really ought to understand Wittgenstein’s critique of theory (or, if one prefers, of certain standard notions of what philosophy is). For a literary theorist it ought to be as unthinkable to know nothing about Wittgenstein as it has been to know nothing about Saussure, or Derrida, or Lacan, or Foucault, and so on through the pantheon of more recent theorists. I wrote Revolution of the Ordinary to make this possible.
It is the scientist’s “being-in-the-world” that allows her to describe planets and bacteria, “things and subhuman organisms,” but the “being-in-the-world” of the layman occupies what Percy calls a “different sort of reality,” resting upon the linguistic and social ties that constitute a “non-material, non-measurable entity.” And what holds true of our triadic relationships also goes for us as individuals. A “material substance cannot name or assert a proposition,” which accordingly means, Percy concludes, that “the initiator of a speech act” is also something that the natural sciences are incapable of recognizing: “The agent is not material.”