UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fiction without pretense Isenberg, Jillian Alexandra


A No-Object theory of fiction denies that there is any sense of “object” in which the objects of fiction are objects at all. This is conjunction of two fundamental assumptions. The first is a metaphysical principle that asserts that there is nothing that does not exist. The second asserts that the individuals and events that figure in works of fiction do not exist. I call these assumptions “Parmenides’ Rule” and the “Non-Existence Postulate”. The No-Object theory also raises what I call the subject-matter paradox. If the objects of fiction are nothing, how can it be that we refer to them, ascribe properties to them, and draw inferences about them? My dissertation dissolves the subject-matter paradox by providing an explanandum for philosophical theories of fiction. A theory of fiction must explain how we can know that there are no objects of fiction, while we respond as though there are. In order to better understand these responses to fiction, I consider recent empirical work in psychology. This work supports the claim that fictional narratives impact our beliefs and attitudes about both the fictional and the actual worlds and shows that we do in fact accept and act as though fictional statements are true, even when we are aware of their falsity. Empirical data concerning our responses to fiction supports a number of claims. First, fictions have objects. Second, we refer to, make true claims about, and draw correct inferences about the objects fiction. The Rule and the Postulate seem to cost us the truths of these two claims; given the Rule and the Postulate are true the claims must be false. If we accept the No-Object view, we shouldn’t feel philosophically obliged to honour our linguistic intuitions. What the data also show, however, is that the very people whose intuitions the No-Object view tramples have other commitments that actually support these intuitions. It is this seeming contradiction that a theory of fiction must accommodate. It must account for the fact that our responses to fiction are double-aspected. I provide a characterization of these double-aspected responses.

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