How do you solve a problem like Anna Karenina?
Thomasson’s Artifactual Theory of Fictional Characters
Problem: Certain sentences of fictional discourse seem true yet there is no referent of fictional names. We emotionally engage with fictional characters yet there is no thing which we pity, desire or despise. Language and experience of fiction do not seem to match with non-existence of fictional characters.
Non-realists: those who wish to avoid ontological commitment to fictional characters
Frege, Russell (descriptivism) and Walton (‘Pretence’ view)
Realists: those who wish to postulate fictional characters
Meinong, Zalta, Parsons, Kripke and van Inwagen (abstract object view). Lewis (possibilism)
Thomasson (1999) = Realist about fictional characters.
1. What are fictional characters?
*Fictional characters are abstract artefacts.*
Artefact= an object created through the intentional activities of humans.
I1) Fictional characters are created by an author(s).
Provided there is no pre-existent character or real person to whom the author is referring (importing fictional character vs. importing real people into fiction).
I2) Fictional characters are created at a particular point in time.
I3) Fictional characters are ontologically dependent on their author(s) and literary works/ memory of the work/ competent readers of the language in which the work is written.
Some contingent entity A ontologically depends on some contingent entity B, iff necessarily, if A exists then B exists.
Two types of dependency:
D1) a fictional character is historically and rigidly dependent on its author(s).
Historic= Author brings character into existence at a particular point in time, though can exist independently thereafter.
Rigid= The character is dependent on a particular author (thus the author and social and historical circumstances need to exists in all pws in which the character exists).
Analogies= Child and parents, chair and maker, the colour of an apple and the apple, fictional work and the intentional acts of a particular author.
D2) a fictional character is constantly and generically dependent on either copies of literary work/ memory of the work/ competent readers of the language in which the work is written.
Constant= the character exists only as long as the work/memory/reader exist.
Generic= the character exists provided there exists any copy of the work/memory/reader exist.
Analogy= Government and the intentions and behaviour of its people, party and partygoers.
Most of these analogies seem unconvincing.
Have to give up traditional definition of ‘abstract’ that of being ideal, eternal and non-spatial.
It is not clear that the author intends to bring a character into existence in the way stipulated.
The seeming disanalogy between concrete and abstract artefacts has been ignored.
2. Why should we postulate fictional characters?
2.1 The Arguments from Language
Thomasson: Kripke’s direct theory of reference + chains of ontological dependence
Why should we posit such chains?
This is how language works: Kripke’s view can be generalised to cover fictional characters since they exist as abstract artefacts.
Separates ontological and referential worries: the desire for a sparse ontology is separated from worries about the referent of fictional names.
Quasi-indexicality and Illocutionary Acts
“The textual foundation of the character serves as the means whereby a quasi-indexical reference to the character can be made by means of which that very fictional object can be baptized by authors or readers.” (1999: 47) Emphasis added.
Illocutionary acts and possibility of error.
Serious Statements: Real versus Fictional Contexts
FC) Anna Karenina throws herself under a train.
RC) Anna Karenina first appears in chapter 18 (part 1).
FC) can be prefixed with a story operator whereas the RC) cannot be prefixed.
Thomasson cites unsatisfactory parsing of ‘serious’ statements as reason to posit fictional characters as abstract artefacts.
Intersubjective Identification: We refer to the same object when we both use the same fictional name as reference to object succeeds.
“There is an abstract entity who we pretend throws herself under a train” does not seem like an adequate analysis of FC).
How do we manage to refer to the same abstract artefact? Through the same textual foundation?
Mixed statements do not neatly fall into either real or fictional contexts (e.g. I feel sorry for Anna Karenina when she throws herself under the train).
Creative biographies, Shakespeare’s Richard iii.
2.2. The Argument from Intentionality
Tripartite conception of intentionality:
Conscious act (the thought, desire etc)
Content (like Fregean senses)
Existence independence, conception dependence, context sensitivity.
There’s a non-realist reliance on either content or context to do all the work as they do not posit the object. However, this is not satisfactory for mixed cases in which two or more constraints are exercised.
a) The protagonist is loved by Vronsky.
b) Anna Karenina throws herself under a train.
c) The protagonist is the father of Goneril.
Non-realist cannot show how content in both cases refers to the same character (or perhaps more correctly, how both contents are unified) - intersubjective identification of the character fails.
Thomasson = all intentional acts have an object (not to be confused with ‘object of thought’) – intersubjective identification succeeds.
Abundant ontology (numerous intentional objects of hallucinations/imaginings etc).
No possibility of error (again) over existence of object.
Unclear how the content succeeds in picking out the object or the same object each time.
Summary= Postulation of fictional objects does not seem to assuage our worries concerning both language and experience of fictional characters; indeed it seems to raise further problems.
Labels: fictional objects metaphysics ontology anna karenina