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Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Catharine Abell

Fiction Making

Fiction poses a variety of interesting philosophical problems, including those of explaining the nature and contents of the speech acts in which authors engage when they produce works of fiction; whether or not there are such things as fictional characters and, if so, what kinds of things they are; and what it is for something to be true according to a fiction. Although these issues are related, many contemporary philosophical discussions tend to focus on just one of these problems whilst ignoring the others. Currie and Walton are chief among the very few philosophers who attempt to provide consistent solutions to the variety of problems posed by fiction. Although the problems on which they focus and the solutions they provide to them differ, they are alike in being anti-realists about fictional characters. I argue that Currie’s anti-realism commits him to the implausible view that the content of the speech acts fiction makers perform in producing a work of fiction is determined by what’s true in that work of fiction, rather than vice versa. I then offer an alternative, consistent set of solutions to the problems identified above. I argue that fiction making involves, not pretending to assert or issuing invitations to make-believe, but rather the performance of declarative illocutionary acts. I then use this account to explain how authors can create fictional characters and confer properties on them. Drawing on Searle’s social ontology, I argue that fictional characters are ontologically subjective entities that consist in power relationships between people, specifically powers to make believe. This account solves semantic problems concerning fictive discourse, while eschewing the ontological profligacy of alternative realist accounts. Moreover, I argue, construing fiction making as involving declarations yields an account of the mechanics of generation for fictional truth that avoids the “silly questions” problems raised by Walton.

About Catharine Abell:

My research addresses a range of issues in aesthetics, including the nature of art, pictorial representation, expression in the representational arts, genre, style and the nature of fiction. I have published papers on these and other issues in journals including The Philosophical Review, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, The American Philosophical Quarterly, The British Journal of Aesthetics and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Together with Katerina Bantinaki, I co-edited the book Philosophical Perspectives on Depiction (Oxford University Press, 2010).