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Sunday, July 27, 2014

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Thanks for these useful comments.

"For a summary to be correct it doesn't have to be true of anything; it merely has to reproduce in condensed form the sense of the the piece of fiction summarized. I can take in the sense of a sentence without knowing whether it is true or false."

Correct, but the question is whether literary criticism is itself a genre of plot summary (which I believe it is). If it is, then the proper names used in the critical work are 'about' the same character as the work itself is 'about', not about abstract objects or theoretical entities. The sentence 'Frodo is a hobbit' is about Frodo, even when I use that sentence extra-fictionally, and Frodo is not an abstract object, but a living, breathing hobbit.

That's what I think. But then we are down to the problem, which I alluded to in an email this morning, of who is the final authority on what we mean, particularly when it is the fundamental question of what the 'is' of the copula really means. There is no general agreement about how we decide on such a fundamental question. I can say that I know what I mean when I say (extra-fictionally) 'Frodo is a hobbit'. But perhaps I don't know what I mean? And how do I prove what I mean, when what I mean is private to me?

E.g. you say in your earlier post: "Surely I am the final authority as to what I am thinking of. It is part of the phenomenology of the situation that when I think about a detective that I know to be purely fictional I am thinking about an item that is given as nonexistent. But then the existing abstract object is not the same as the object I am thinking of. Van Inwagen's abstract surrogate exists; the object I am think of does not exist; ergo, they are not the same object."

But are you the final authority as to what you are thinking of? Van Inwagen merely has to point to the apparent contradiction of thinking (a) that a hobbit is not an abstract entity, but a living breathing thing, and (b) that there are no such things as hobbits. You will reply that the copula has two distinct senses, the narrow sense in which there is no such thing as a hobbit, and the wide sense in which there is, and that when you think that Frodo is a hobbit, you are thinking of 'is' in the wide, not the narrow sense. Van Inwagen will reply that there is no evidence of any such two distinct senses. You reply that the evidence is the apparent contradiction, which can only be resolved by equivocation on 'is', and that, moreover, Inwagen's own theory depends on equivocation of 'is', namely the predication sense and the 'ascription' or 'holding' sense. I could make a little dialogue of this.

>>BV: Van Inwagen might respond by saying that in (B) ''Steve' identifies Steve only in the sense that 'Steve' in the second sentence has 'Steve' in the first sentence as antecedent. So there is no (extralinguistic) reference at all, and 'Steve' in (B) does not pick out an abstract object.

The problem is that (B) is extra-fictional, and the natural interpretation of Van Inwagen's theory is that all extra-fictional discourse is about abstract objects, indeed has to be about abstract objects, in order to explain how extra-fictional discourse can be true. We are facing the same problem as with plot summaries. If van Inwagen concedes that there is a variety of extra-fictional discourse that is true, or in some sense 'true' or 'correct', he weakens his main case. He has the problem of '"Frodo" refers to Frodo', for instance. Is that true or not true? If true, then it is true because 'Frodo' refers to an abstract object. But surely, as Tolkien uses the name, it refers to a hobbit, not an abstract object. If it is false, then Van Inwagen is denying the possibility of story-relative reference, which we agree (in this blog at least) is implausible.

>>but the question is whether literary criticism is itself a genre of plot summary (which I believe it is). If it is, then the proper names used in the critical work are 'about' the same character as the work itself is 'about', not about abstract objects or theoretical entities. The sentence 'Frodo is a hobbit' is about Frodo, even when I use that sentence extra-fictionally, and Frodo is not an abstract object, but a living, breathing hobbit.

That's what I think.<<

Well, if Frodo lives and breathes, unlike any abstract object, and nothing can have a property such as being alive without existing, then Frodo exists! You don't want to say that.

Surely you hold that if x exemplifies a property, then x exists.

You are not a Meinongian. The Meinongian denies that existence is a necessary condition of property-possession. He thinks that some individuals have (exemplify) properties -- ACTUALLY exemplify them -- even thought those individuals have no being whatsoever.

If you were a Meinongian, then you could hold that the reference of 'Frodo' is the same whether the name is used extra-fictionally or intra-fictionally.

>> Well, if Frodo lives and breathes, unlike any abstract object, and nothing can have a property such as being alive without existing, then Frodo exists! You don't want to say that.<<

I agree I don’t want to say that, but I don't have to. According to the London theory, “Frodo is a living being” is strictly false. But it is ‘correct’ in universe, when I am summarising LOTR, and where ‘correct’ means, ‘captures the sense of what is said’.

The London theory has more of a difficulty with extra-fictional sentences like ‘Frodo is a fictional character’, which clearly summarise nothing that could be said in LOTR. But the difficulty is merely apparent.

>>If you were a Meinongian, then you could hold that the reference of 'Frodo' is the same whether the name is used extra-fictionally or intra-fictionally.

We agree that the 'reference' is the same (in my case, 'story-relative' reference). The problem with the Meinongian theory (as well as the Inwagean) is the illicit 'messing with the copula'.

According to Londoners, the copula always means the same, and you should never mess about with it. The verb 'is' means the same in both of its occurrences in the following sentence:

Tolkien says that there is such a thing as Frodo but there is not such a thing as Frodo.

It must mean the same otherwise the reporter could not be denying what Tolkien is said to say. The proper name ‘Frodo’ also means the same, i.e. it’s not referring to an abstract object in one case, but not in the other. And yet the words ‘there is such a thing as Frodo’ and ‘there is not such a thing as Frodo’ both appear in that sentence. And yet there is no contradiction. Sentential operators, sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit as above, are all we need to explain this ‘mystery’.

You seem to be invoking story operators to avoid ontological commitment to fictional entities. The following dyad is consistent:

1. In the story, there is such a thing as Frodo.
2. There is not such a thing as Frodo.

'Is' has the same sense in both sentences. But this is also true:

3. Frodo is a fictional character.

The following, however, is false:

4. In the story, Frodo is a fictional character.

So, absent any messing with the copula, how do you block the inference from (3) to

5. There are fictional characters.

?

>>So, absent any messing with the copula, how do you block the inference from (3) to 5. There are fictional characters. ?

This appears to be a problem, and Inwagen makes a great thing of this kind of argument, but it isn't.

I suppose you will now ask why it isn't a problem.

I need a direct answer, Ed. If you have a nice clear answer to this, then you may be home free.

I suspect that if we don't mess with the copula, we will have to mess with something else.

Let me think how to put it elegantly, I am working on something else right now.

OK I have it. Consider the difference between the following two sentences:

(1) Tolkien says that there is a hobbit called Frodo, whom he depicts as having large feet.

(2) Tolkien says that there is a hobbit called Frodo, who is depicted by him as having large feet.

We agree that in (1) there are two separate ‘instory’ operators, yes? The first is ‘Tolkien says that’, the second is ‘he depicts’. Neither of the conjuncts entails the existence of hobbits, or of anyone having large feet.

Now (2) is simply (1) with the second conjunct changed from active ‘he depicts’ to passive ‘is depicted by him’. So what about the ‘is’ of ‘is depicted’? Does it say that in the story, Tolkien describes Frodo as having the property ‘being depicted’ as well as ‘being a hobbit’? Certainly not. Yet the subject of ‘is depicted’ is Frodo himself, not an abstract entity, contra van Inwagen. From outside the story, we can characterise persons in the story both as the story depicts them, and also as ‘being-depicted’.

Is this ‘messing around with the copula’? In a sense yes. ‘someone was said to be in the vicinity’ does not entail the existence of anyone said-to-be-such, yet the copula ‘was’ occurs. But it’s a perfectly standard use for changing active constructions to passive ones.

I hope that makes sense, as I said, I have a few plates in the air at the moment.

>> ‘someone was said to be in the vicinity’ does not entail the existence of anyone said-to-be-such, yet the copula ‘was’ occurs. <<

I am not understanding this.


Active Voice: Tom said that someone was in the vicinity.
Passive Voice: Someone was said by Tom to be in the vicinity.

The active construction, which is de dicto, does not entail the existence of someone in the vicinity. The passive construction, which is de re, does.

The simple reply is that that the passive sometimes has two senses, one which is identical to the active sense, and which therefore cannot be existential, and the other which is not identical. I agree that the natural reading of "Someone was said by Tom to be in the vicinity." is the latter sense.

But I am unable to read "Tolkien says that there is a hobbit called Frodo, who is depicted by him as having large feet" as existential. My (1) and (2) above are identical. You need to address this case.

And what about

(*) Frodo is a made up character ?

Note that 'fiction' just means what is contrived, or made up, or invented. To say that Frodo 'is' a fictional character is simply to say that he is made up, which itself no more than saying that someone (Tolkien) made him up.

Regarding plot summaries, lit crit is talk about a work and in a sense a plot summary is 'about' a work, but I suspect that PVI would not regard them as overlapping---plot summaries do not in general contain the 'literary' predicates that he says characterise lit crit.

Can we not say that a necessary condition of story B being a correct plot summary of story A is that the sentences of B can be inferred from A? Truth does not come into it.

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