Nils Franzén: "Fictional Truth"

  • Date: –12:00
  • Location: Engelska parken - Eng2-1022
  • Organiser: Department of Philosophy
  • Contact person: Matti Eklund
  • Seminarium

The Higher Seminar in Theoretical Philosophy

Nils Franzén, Uppsala University: "Fictional Truth: In Defense of the Reality Principle"

Some things are true in fictions and some things are false. For instance, while there are no hobbits and dragons in the actual world, it is true in The Lord of the Rings that there are such creatures. Some fictional truths are explicitly stated in a work of fiction, whereas others are merely implicit. For instance, whereas we are never told so explicitly in Dickens’ Great Expectations, it is true in that story that Stockholm is the capital of Sweden. The prevalence of such implicit fictional truths raises the issue of under which circumstances a statement or a proposition is true in a fiction.

A well-known answer to this question, originating in the works of David Lewis (1978) and Kendall Walton (1990) (although endorsed by neither), is the Reality Principle (RP):

(RP) Where p1... pn are the primary fictional truths of a fiction F, it is true in F that q iff the following holds: were p1 ... pn  the case, q would have been the case.

(RP) has been subjected to a number of counterexamples, up to a point where, in the words of Stacie Friend “it is widely recognized that the Reality Principle […] cannot be a universal inference rule for implied story-truths” (Friend, 2017, p. 33). Moreover, Friend and other have taken these counterexamples to show that no principle in the vicinity of (RP) could work, and in general, that no systematic account of how implicit story-truths are generated, can be given.

In this talk I argue that the strength of these counterexamples is widely overestimated, and that most of them, on a closer look, constitutes no problem for (RP). While an account of fictional truth will indeed have to appeal to impossible worlds, there is no reason to suppose that an account of implicit story truth in terms of counterfactual conditionals will fail.