Academic journal article Analysis and Metaphysics

A Representational Account of Fictional Characters

Academic journal article Analysis and Metaphysics

A Representational Account of Fictional Characters

Article excerpt

1. Artefactual Theories of Fictional Characters

One comparative advantage of artefactual theories over their rivals is their confor mity with our pr e-theor etic intuit ion according to which fictiona l characters are created entities. Everyday consumers of literary works often assume that artistic writing is an essentially innovative activity. On the most common view, persons like Sherlock Holmes and Fyodor Karamazov, and places like Middlemarch and Lilliput are, in the strictest sense of the word, intellectual products of the human mind. Fictional characters are therefore supposed to have their own life span: there is a certain point of time when they are brought into being by the creative acts of their authors and there may come a time when they simply cease to exist, perhaps, when the works in which they appear become physically destroyed and no one remembers them any more. In this regard, fictional characters do not differ significantly from other types of artistic products. It is not very surprising, then, that the folk ontogenetic conception of literary works takes the createdness of fictional persons and places as a rather obvious and trivial datum.

Most proponents of the artefactual theory tend to regard the above ontogenetic truisms of the folk view as basically correct. At least two elements of this view are thought to be suitable for serious theoretical investigations. The first element coincides with the fundamental thesis of art ontological realism which states that there are fictional characters in the overall inventory of what exists. The second element attempts to give an answer to the question of how ca n ther e be such charact ers. According to the folk expla nation, fictional characters come into being as a result of creative writing processes.

Artefactualists such as Goodman (2004), Voltolini (2006) and Thomasson (1999, 2003, 2010) argue, in har mony with the folk view, that Sher lock Holmes, Middlemarch and their likes are contingently existing created entities. Even if this thesis appears to be reasonable at first glance, the a rtefactual theor y has some count er intuitive feat ur es. On my view, artefactua lis m becomes counterintuitive precisely at that point where it goes beyond the truisms of the folk theory. Let me explain what I mean by this.1

In order to make their theory plausible, artefactualists have to provide a detailed description about the process of authorial creation. If one regards a particular fictional text F as consisting of a set of syntactically individuated English sentences, then the question for artefactualists to answer is this: How ca n the a uthor of F literally cr ea te var ious fict iona l entities merely by writing down or typing out the sentences composing F?

As a first step in answering this question, artefactualists may invoke their favored account of int entionality. Thomasson (1996, 1999) follows in this respect the act-object theory of intentionality defended first by the polish philosophers T wardows ki and Ingarden. The act-object theor y sa ys that every intentional act involves an object and a content. The act is directed or related to an object and the content is what is thought or judged about that object. According to this approach, non-fictional sentences like (1) receive a quite straightforward interpretation:

(1) Günter Grass smokes a pipe.

The object to which the underlying intentional act is related is Grass, and he is thought of a s a ct ing in a certain way, namely a s smoking a pipe. Of course, Grass as a person exists independently from any intentional act. And he would sur ely not cease to exist, if no intentiona l a cts wer e dir ect ed towards him in the future. But now consider the fictional counterpart of (1):

(2) Sherlock Holmes smokes a pipe.

Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that (2) is the sentence token which contained the very first occurrence of the proper name Sherlock Holmes in Cona n Doyle's oeuvr e. …

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