Monday, 30 September 2013

A non-semantic-based argument for fictional realism

Hi everyone,

I just read an interesting paper by Alberto Voltolini, and I wanted to share the argument with you all.  Fictional realism, as many of you know, is the view that fictional characters exist.  Fictional realists, as Voltolini points out, typically rest their case on semantic arguments. The general move:  there are some sincerely asserted sentences that appear to make reference to fictional characters, and that appear to be true, so (given simple semantic assumptions) we should think fictional characters exist.  Voltolini thinks that it's possible for fictional anti-realists to continue to combat the traditional semantic argument by offering more and more complicated paraphrasing alternatives to the relevant sentences.  So, if that is true, it would be nice for the realist to offer a non-semantic-based argument in support of her view.  (You might even think that, regardless of the anti-realist's prospects for combating the semantic argument, it would be nice for realists to offer more arguments in favor of their view).  Voltolini's argument for realism is intended to be just that:

Voltolini’s ontological argument for fictional realism:

  1.  There are fictional texts.
  2. If (1), then there are sets of propositions that those texts non-connivingly express(call these sets ‘fictional worlds’).
  3. So, there are fictional worlds.
  4. If (3), then there are identity conditions for some existing entities that involve fictional characters.
  5. So, there are identity conditions for some existing entities that involve fictional characters.
  6. If (5), then fictional realism is true.
  7. So, fictional realism is true.

Justification for (1):  Texts are syntactical entities composed of sentences.  There are some texts that are used as props for games of make-believe.  If there are some texts used as props for games of make-believe, then there are some fictional texts.  So, there are some fictional texts.

Justification for (2):  A fictional text’s use in normal contexts is conniving, because this is what is required for them to be treated as props in games of make-believe (in fact, what Voltolini appears to mean by 'conniving' is just inviting to make-believe, rather than sincerely asserting; depending on your view of make-believe, such sentences may not even express propositions, but rather pretend to express propositions).  There is nothing inherent to the text itself, however, that prevents it from having a non-conniving dimension.  In fact, when we engage in acts of make-believe with the text, part of what that requires is for us to imagine that some speaker (the narrator, for instance) is sincerely asserting the sentences that make up the text.  If such a text has a non-conniving dimension, the sentences constituting that text must express a set of propositions (for, this is just what comes from non-connivingly employed sentences, ie. sincerely asserted sentences – they express propositions).  This set of propositions will include those explicitly expressed by the sentences, and those implicitly expressed by the sentences (this corresponds with the intuitive thought that fictional works contain both explicit and implicit truths about the fictional world - according to Voltolini, the implicit propositions will be entailed by the explicit propositions).  It’s natural to call this set of non-connivingly expressed propositions 'the fictional world.'

(3) follows from modus ponens.

Justification for (4):  It’s possible for there to be two syntactically identical fictional texts coincidentally written by different authors at the same time in roughly the same location (suppose the two authors are neighbors, but that neither is aware of the other or their writings).  It is intuitive to think that these two authors wrote distinct fictional works about correspondingly distinct fictional worlds.  Since a fictional world is just the set of explicit and implicit propositions a fictional text expresses, then the difference between the two must amount to a difference between the sets of propositions.  What difference, however, could there be in two sets of propositions expressed by syntactically identical texts?  There appear to be two options:  the two sets differ in virtue of the ‘real’ (non-fictional) constituents of the proposition-members, or the two sets differ in virtue of the fictional constituents of the proposition-members.  It cannot be the real constituents of those propositions (if there are any), since (if there are any) such entities would be the same in both works (under the assumption that a name like 'Napolean' in a fictional text could refer to Napolean Boneparte, then it would do so in any work in which the name was so used).  So, what makes the two worlds distinct must be the fictional entities constituting some of those propositions.  But, saying that fictional entities are what make two syntactically identical texts express distinct fictional worlds is just to say that those fictional entities are what constitute (at least in part) the identity conditions of those worlds.  So, fictional entities are needed to fix the identity conditions of fictional worlds.  If fictional worlds exist, then fictional entities are needed to fix the identity conditions of some existing entities.

(5) follows from modus ponens.

Justification for (6):  We should think (6) is true because for something to play a role in the identity conditions of an existing entity, then that thing must itself exist.  Fictional realism is the view that fictional entities exist, so, if fictional entities play a role in the identity conditions of an existing entity, then fictional realism is true.

(7) follows from modus ponens.

Voltolini considers some objections, and I have some objections of my own in mind, but for now I'll simply post the argument to see what y'all think.