The Paradox of Caring
Fiction and the Philosophy of Mind
The sentiments of others can never affect us, but by becoming, in some measure, our own.
-- David Hume
Our responses to fictions, their events, and their characters, can seem deeply problematic. A typical statement of the problem raises the question: how is it even logically possible to respond to fictions in the way we seem to? How, more specifically, is it possible to care about people we don't believe in? But to be given an answer to this problem -- to be told the conditions that make it possible to do something -- is not yet to be told how we actually do it, for actuality is a much narrower condition than possibility. Indeed, mere assurance of possibility can itself be no solution to a problem about what we humans, with our contingent mental makeup, do or don't do; many things that are logically possible cannot be done by us. So if our concern is how we respond to fiction as we appear to do, we had better be given a plausible story about the mental mechanisms involved.
In earlier work on what I am here calling "the paradox of caring" I had much to say on the logical issues, and relatively little on the psychological detail necessary to fill out the solution I proposed. 1 I think that solution was basically right, and that might be excuse enough for going back to it. But I don't want merely to repeat myself. I shall say something about why the solution I offer is not merely logically satisfactory but psychologically plausible as well.
So one constraint that an acceptable solution to the paradox of caring should satisfy is coherence: the solution should cohere with the best psychologi-