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Fiction & Fictional Objects

Course Description

Fiction plays an important role in our lives. From childhood onwards, we tell stories, watch movies, read novels, idolize, admire, and loathe fictional characters, and even learn valuable lessons from fables. Yet, for all of this, much about fiction remains fundamentally mysterious. For example, what exactly makes a particular work a work of fiction? Is there any clear way to draw the line between fictions and non-fictions? Does genre play a role? Relatedly, what should we say concerning the ontological standing of the entities invoked in fictions – what, for example, is Sherlock Holmes? A real, flesh-and-blood detective? An abstract entity? Nothing at all? Is Sauron’s One Ring in fact a ring, even though there is no way you could ever slip it on your finger? Is the Napoleon of War & Peace the same thing as the man who in fact lost the battle of Waterloo?

This course will aim to address some of these issues, introducing students to contemporary analytic philosophy about fiction. In particular, we will focus on three broad topics: (1) distinguishing fiction from non-fiction; (2) truth in fiction; and  (3) the ontology of fictions and fictional objects.

Concerning the first topic, the most popular theory of fiction today is the ‘fictive utterance’ account (inspired by Walton’s (1990) account of fiction/representational art in terms of prescriptions to imagine). According to this theory, fictionality essentially turns on the author’s intention to invite imagining. Some recent work has been critical of this account, arguing that the invitation to imagine provides neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for fictionality. The first part of the course will concern familiarizing ourselves with the arguments for and against the fictive utterance view, as well as several alternative accounts.

Building on the previous topic, in the second part of the course we will inquire about what’s true in (or, ‘according to’) the fiction. Here we will focus on the relation between fictional truth and what’s explicitly stated in a text, as well as how what genre or category a fiction belongs to affects how we interpret it.

Finally, in the third part of the course we will ask (1) what kind of thing a work of fiction is, and (2) what kind of things fictional objects are. The former seeks to pin down fictions themselves – how is it that authors create them? How should we understand the fact that they are repeatable? And what ought we say about the fact that fiction includes literature, painting, sculpture, theater, and film? The latter, meanwhile, looks at entities like Holmes and the One Ring, seeking to figure out what sort of things they might be. Options we will look at include fictionalism realism, the artifactual theory, and Neo- Meinongianism.

Course Materials

Further Materials

Further, the following German texts – all written by Christian Folde – are all useful: