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Tuesday, July 29, 2014


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The book (The Lord of Rings) remains. But here we return to a point I have raised before, about agentless assertion. “In the book on p.253 it says that …”. You have denied this possibility (from memory). So we will now have to argue about that.

By the way, this is the fourth or fifth post you have opened without any of the issues from the earlier ones being resolved. Chess analogy: we get to a point in the game where I feel I have made a strong move and I am waiting with interest to see how you will ‘reply’. In return, you start a new game, with a completely different opening.

E.g. “Tolkien says that there is a hobbit called Frodo, who is depicted by him as having large feet”. It is blindingly clear that the passive construction ‘is depicted’ does not imply the existence of a hobbit called Frodo. This is a counterinstance to PvI’s argument that in true sentences containing fictional names, the fictional name must refer to an abstract object, because of the copula.

One counterinstance of true premiss, false conclusion, is enough to dispute validity.

"If Tolkien made up Frodo, but Frodo does not exist, then what did Tolkien create? A mere modification of his own consciousness? No. He created a character that outlasted him and that cannot be identified with any part of Tolkien's body or mind. Tolkien ceased to exist in 1973. But no one will say that the character Frodo simply vanished in 1973. When Tolkien ceased to exist, his mental contents ceased to exist. But when the writer ceased to exist, Frodo did not stop being a quite definite fictional character. So Frodo cannot be identified with any mental content of Tolkien. Nor could Frodo be said to be an adverbial modification of one of Tolkien's acts of thinking."

Could we say that when Tolkein invented/created Frodo, what he did was engage in a pretense in which the name 'Frodo' has a referent, and that when he died, we all merely continue the pretense? That would seem to block the consequence that Frodo is an artifact, since it doesn't seem to follow from, 'S is pretending that N has a referent' that 'There is some referent that S's act of pretending (that N refers) creates.' Rather, to pretend just is to act as if some state of affairs obtains when it in fact does not.

So perhaps an appeal to pretense will help provide us with the resources to formulate an accurate paraphrase of (3) that does not have as a consequence the notion that Frodo is somehow linked to Tolkien's consciousness, for a pretense is a kind of game that can outlast its creator if it has a continuous stream of additional participants. (This would also explain why it doesn't seem to be the case that 'Frodo is also dependent on the continuing existence of physical copies of LOTR', for even if all copies were lost, the stories could still be told by people engaging in the pretense, just as Achilles, if we suppose the use of the name doesn't trace back to any historical figure, was spoken 'about' (in the pretense) long before there were any hard copies of Homer's works.)

(It seems as if this discussion has been going on for some time, and I haven't yet read all the posts it comprises, so I apologize if I'm raising issues you have already considered and moved on from.)

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the comment. Actually, we haven't talked about pretense theory yet, and, to be honest, I am not that well-versed in it. But here's a thought.

If a literary pretense is a kind of game, then I should think it is a cultural artifact, games being cultural artifacts. Chess, for example, is a game and is perhaps most reasonably viewed as a cultural artifact: it has neither a platonic existence nor an existence tied to its long-dead creators. But its existence depends on people playing it. Chess is a contingent abstract cultural artifact. But then the same holds for the king, the queen, the rooks, the bishops, the knights, and the pawns. They are all abstract artifacts.

So I don't quite see how pretense theory would prevent us from thinking of Frodo as an artifact.


According to Amie Thomasson (Fiction and Metaphysics, p. 97), the pretense view "fails to take serious discourse ABOUT fictional characters seriously." (my emphasis)

My example: Mickey Mouse is a cartoon character recognized and protected by copyright law. As a matter of empirical fact, this character exists! How is pretense involved in this?

Ed sez:

>>The book (The Lord of Rings) remains. But here we return to a point I have raised before, about agentless assertion. “In the book on p.253 it says that …”. You have denied this possibility (from memory). So we will now have to argue about that.<<

You have a good memory. I distinguish among at least the following:

1. Acts of asserting.
2. Contents of acts of asserting: the propositions asserted.
3. Agents of assertion: persons who make assertions.

Saying and asserting are not the same, but the same goes for saying. That is, the above three points are true of saying, mutatis mutandis.

We can talk loosely if we like, and in some contexts such as the pub we should; but in this context we ought not to. Strictly and philosophically, it makes no sense to say that a sentence in a book says anything or asserts anything.

>>Strictly and philosophically, it makes no sense to say that a sentence in a book says anything or asserts anything.

Completely absurd. Recall I spent some time studying theology, much of it on the gospel of Mark. We spent a lot of time discussing passages like this: "And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe: and they were astonished". Remember that Mark is probably not the author of that gospel. Why does it make no sense to say what it says, or ask what it means? I suppose you could paraphrase it as 'the author of that passage says that ...". But then we ask about the meaning of that passage.

When we discussed passages like these, we all understood what we meant. Why do you say our discussions made no sense. Were they meaningless?

>>Saying and asserting are not the same
Why not? Assertion is when what you utter has a truth value. Similarly for saying. A question has no truth value, because you do not say anything, you as. A prayer has no truth value, because you do not say something, you pray for something.

I am just searching Google books for the expression "it says that". A surprising number of hits are logic books.

"This is true. It [the sentence] says that anything which is both a dog and a cat isn't an animal".

First of all, why does this 'make no sense'. It makes total sense to me. Second, if it makes sense 'talking loosely', what is the correct way according to you of saying it?

Indeed, can we talk at all about 'the correct way of saying it', given that the answer will be 'this', i.e. a sentence written down, but then a written sentence can't say anything.

From a theology book: "The text also mentions the 144,000 who have been sealed". No no, says Bill, a text can't 'mention' anything! "And it says that he also saw a great people that no one could number". Bill: "That makes no sense". There are pages and pages of this stuff. All senseless, according to Phoenix.

People say things, not sentences.

Are you confusing the meaning of a sentence with someone's saying of it?

Suppose I lead a blind man to a tomb, and remark that there is an interesting inscription on it. The blind man says to me, "What does it say?" I say to him, "It says that the best is yet to come."

Can you appreciate that 'says' is being used in two ways, a strict way and a loose way in my little example?

My objection is to your claim that 'it makes no sense'. It is a Moorean fact that it does make sense.

I also checked Prior on this ("A budget of paradoxes"). He even gives a logical analysis of 'it says in the book that p'. This is in connection with the paradox of the preface.

>>Are you confusing the meaning of a sentence with someone's saying of it?

See above. The meaning or content of a sentence is different from the fact that it says what it says.

>>Can you appreciate that 'says' is being used in two ways, a strict way and a loose way in my little example?

Not in the slightest. It is being used in different ways, I agree. Neither is more strict than the other and I object specifically to your claim that one of them makes no sense. You say that "It says that the best is yet to come." makes no sense. I can make sense of it. And why are you saying something that you believe makes no sense?

Oxford dictionary:

To give written information (of something that is written or can be seen) to give particular information or instructions: The notice said ‘Keep Out’.

Say something: The clock said three o'clock.

Say (that): The instructions say (that) we should leave it to set for four hours.

Say where, why, etc: The book doesn't say where he was born.

Say to do something: The guidebook says to turn left.

You are biting on granite.

Bill, I greatly enjoy your discussions and thought that this particular one was germane to a literary one I am having elsewhere. Your thoughts would be appreciated.
You say: "If Tolkien made up Frodo, but Frodo does not exist, then what did Tolkien create? A mere modification of his own consciousness? No. He created a character that outlasted him and that cannot be identified with any part of Tolkien's body or mind."
Evelyn Waugh published three novels that became known as the Sword of Honour trilogy. He revised the final volume several years after publication, which at a stroke rendered Guy Crouchback, the central character and the father of two children in the first edition, childless.

Now if Tolkien had produced two published accounts with Frodo having similar radical differences to those that affect Guy Chrouchback, can we say then "Frodo" exists? Or "Frodos"? Should we give precedence to the original version or accept the author's revision?
If a previously unknown version of Lord of the Rings was discovered in a publisher's vault, clearly ready for publication and dated subsequently than the published one, with Frodo dying at the outset; how would we understand this fictional character?


Thank you for the Crouchback example.

The problem you mention is similar to, or perhaps the same as, the problem whether 'the same' fictional character can appear in different works of fiction. There is the Faust of the Faust legend, the Faust of Goethe, and the Faust of Marlowe. Is this the same character, or three different characters?

Is the Crouchback of the first edition the same as the Crouchback of the second edition? The Crouchback of the first has children, the Crouchback of the second does not.

The answer will depend on your theory of fiction. Suppose we say that fictional characters are contingent abstract cultural artifacts. Suppose further that they have two sorts of properties, call them the nuclear and extranuclear where being childless is nuclear and being fictional is extranuclear. Then we might say that two fictional characters differ numerically if they differ in at least one nuclear property. On this approach there would be two Crouchbacks and two Frodos, not one.

Thanks Bill for the helpful way of approaching this.
Us readers must still suffer some cognitive dissonance in attempting to understand the biography of a favourite character! Thank God Waugh stopped with just two different conclusions...

Hey Ed,

Do sentences have vocal cords?

More tomorrow, maybe.

'Says' has a literal meaning, and a figurative meaning. Like many words in English and other languages. Nearly all figurative meanings are literally false. E.g. to 'illustrate' means to shed light upon something. Can Tolkien's book illustrate the problem of fictional characters? Surely not, you say, for a book cannot be a direct source of light.

But you know this, so I am puzzling why you are saying it.

On agentless assertion, what about indexicals? The sentence, 'I am here', considered as an instance of agentless assertion, seems meaningful in the sense that we understand the rules according to which it could be put to a meaningful use (it has a Kaplanian 'character'), but it lacks any specific meaning (i.e. a Kaplanian 'content'), because it is only the 'context' of an agent's use of such an expression (at a given place and time) that determines its meaning/content (character being 'a function of a context to a content').

Still, in the LoTR, when Frodo says, 'I will take the ring, though I do not know the way' we seem to have no problem understanding this. I'm not sure how to square this data point with the plausibly true Kaplanian account of indexicals (which requires the agent as an element of context).

Strawson makes a similar point about sentences in general: so, to use his example, 'The present king of France is wise' is, qua sentence, meaningful only if there's some possibly true or false use to which it could be put (i.e. to make a statement, as he would say, or to express a proposition, we we might say today). But it is not, sans such use, either true or false, since it could be used to say something (i.e. make a statement) that's true at one time, and that's false at another (or, he thought, something that lacked a truth value in cases of reference failure). So again, we seem to have a problem with sentences like this being understood in the context of agentless assertion, for it seems clear that such a sentences would lack a truth value in such a case, and so wouldn't make any statement/express any proposition. But in the context of fiction, this all changes (as Ed says, it's a Moorean fact that in fictional contexts, such sentences do make sense, at least prima facie), and I'm not sure how to explain that.

On pretense, I wonder if we might distinguish what I'll call 'pure pretense' (PP) from what I'll call 'alloyed pretense' (AP) (or, in less tendentious terms, 'creative pretense' from 'participatory pretense.')

So let's say that the essential element of PP is that, within such a pretense, it's impossible to say something false (about the elements of the pretense, which I take it would not include tautologies etc.). For example, suppose Tolkien read the following line to the Inklings:

''I will take the ring,' [Frodo] said, 'though I do not know the way.''

Could Lewis have jumped from his seat and exclaimed, 'But that's false, Tollers -- Frodo never said that, and he never takes the ring!' It seems clear that he could not (well, he could have done it, but he couldn't have been right about it). Indeed, even if we suppose that Tolkien read aloud a passage in which it's said e.g. that Pippin, not Sam, was Frodo's gardener, at a point in the story after which Sam has been introduced as his gardener, I'd argue that Lewis still couldn't say that that's false, but at best that it's inconsistent. For it would always be open to Tolkien to say, 'Yes, that's what I had said, but I've revised that bit, and now Pippin is the gardener.' One might think that this is a literary mistake on Tolkien's part, or that it's inconsistent with what he had previously written, but it can't be (strictly) false.

This even seems true of Tolkien himself. Suppose he has just gotten back to writing after a long break, and he can't remember some detail he needs to continue with the story: 'Is Frodo's gardener Sam or Pippin?' he asks himself. I don't think that this is a factual question about Sam or Pippin, but again at best a question of consistency (or a factual question about what Tolkien had already written), since we could imagine cases in which he had originally written in Pippin as the gardener, and only later had replaced him with Sam (e.g. during his break, his pages are lost, and so he rewrites the story, mistakenly thinking that he had Sam as Frodo's gardener when we had in fact had Pippin as the gardener.) Now there is a factual question about what he wrote, but there is no factual question, it seems to me, about who was really the gardener, but merely a question of internal consistency.

This changes in cases of AP, which are distinguished by the fact that it's possible to make true or false claims about the elements of the pretense. So, if we imagine a group or modern day literary critics discussing LoTR, and one says, 'But Frodo's gardener, Pippin, seems to me to represent...' it would be perfectly legitimate for one of his colleagues to say, 'It's false that Pippin was Frodo's gardener.'

Now if Frodo is an artifact, then we must be able to make true or false claims about him. So, it would seem to follow, Frodo can only be an artifact in cases of AP, and not in cases of PP.

But I want to suggest that the move from PP to AP doesn't get us to an artifact, but to a way of speaking about the author/creator of the pretense.

For example, it doesn't seem to be the case that we can pose any counterfactuals about Frodo, e.g. 'What if Frodo had never taken the ring to Mordor?' Or, if we do, this is just a loose way of talking about Tolkien, the 'real' subject of such a counterfactual, i.e. 'What if Tolkien had written the story such that Frodo had never taken the ring to Mordor?' And this is supported by the fact that in the PP in which Tolkien wrote the stories, it was neither true nor false that Frodo had taken the ring to Mordor -- whether we're now constrained to say that he did or didn't is a consequence of Toliken's actions within the PP.

And there are other reasons for doubting that Frodo is an artifact: imagine a possible world in which Lewis, not Tolkien, had written the LoTR stories, precisely as we have them. On the artifact view, it seems to follow that Lewis's Frodo and Tolkien's Frodo are numerically identical, since qua abstracta they possess the same properties. However, not only do they seem to have different modal properties (since to ask in the possible world we're considering whether Frodo might not have taken the ring to Mordor is to pose a counterfactual of Lewis, not of Tolkien), but they can be individuated on the Lockean principle of origination (if A and B have distinct origins, they are distinct objects). We can explain this, however, by appealing to the pure pretenses of Lewis and Tolkien.

So it seems to me plausible to suppose that the reason we think Frodo is an artifact is that we can make true and false claims that appear to be about him, when in fact (I'd suggest) we're making true and false claims in the context of an AP that are actually about Tolkien's decisions within the context of a PP (in which nothing he said could have been false).

I am liking the views of Eric here.

For Eric’s benefit, the objection by Phoenix to the idea of ‘agentless assertion’ probably originated as a rebuttal to the London claim that an assertoric sentence consists in two components, name a sign of the content that is asserted, and the sign for the assertion itself. We can artificially separate these signs, such as here:

Grass is green? Yes.

But normally they are combined, as in the sentence itself:

Grass is green

On this view, ‘truth’ is simply ‘assertion’, for another way of separating assertion from content is by combining the assertion-sign ‘it is true’ from the content sign ‘that grass is green’, thus:

It is true / that grass is green

Phoenicians resolutely deny this, because they believe in truthmakers. They have an armoury of arguments for their view, one of which concerns acting. An actor on the stage utters the words:

Once upon a time there was a hobbit

Phoenicians argue that the actor is not asserting that there once was a hobbit, for he does not believe this, nor does the audience believe him. So assertion must be separate from the sentence itself. Londoners reply that the sentence itself does assert that there was a hobbit, i.e. ‘it says’ that there was a hobbit. But because everyone knows it is play, no one believes him, and no one believes that he is saying that. The sentence says that, but the person, the actor, doesn’t. Consider the situation where I say, to two people, "Of course there are hobbits". I wink in such a way that A can see the wink, but B cannot. So A does not believe what is asserted by the words I utter, because of the wink, but B believes I am sincere. The wink is simply another sign which I can add to an uttered sentence, in order to negate what it normally asserts, agentlessly.

Hence the debate about agentless assertion.

Another objection raised by Phoenix is that the conditional ‘if there elves, there are hobbits’ contains the words ‘there are hobbits’ but does not assert that there are hobbits. Londoners shake their heads and note that the sentence ‘it is false that there are hobbits’ also contains the words ‘there are hobbits’, ergo etc. The fact that a sentence-like string of words appears inside a whole sentence, does not guarantee that the string is a complete sentence.

This has been going on for years.

God is always about in the quad, as the old Berkelian poem noted, so one could say that Tolkien didn't invent but discovered one of God's (uninstantiated) ideas. Frodo's ontological status, whatever it is, doesn't therefore depend on the human perpetuation of LOTR lore in oral, written, visual, digital or any other form that is the result of creaturely action.


Good contribution to the discussion. I like the distinction between PP and AP and it may well be that within neither is there any motivation to go the artifactual route.

Suppose we distinguish four categories of sentences having to do with fiction.

I. Intrafictional sentences. These are sentences that occur within a work of fiction such as a novel.

II. Sentences used to deny the existence of fictional characters. 'Hamlet never existed.'

III. Sentences used in lit-crit discourse about the content of fictional works. For example, I might say to London Ed, "There are some great lines in *Hangover Square* such as 'To those whom God has forsaken is given a gas-fire in Earl's Court.'" We might then go on to debate the literary quality of that line.

IV. Sentences used in external discourse about fictional characters as fictional characters, e.g., "Patrick Hamilton created the character George Harvey Bone."

Your PP seems roughly to correspond to (I) and your AP to (III). But I think a pretense approach will have trouble with sentences from the second and fourth categories.

Suppose I explain to a child that Sherlock Holmes never existed. What game of pretend is being played here? Am I pretending that there is some fact of the matter as to whether or not Holmes really existed? Am I merely pretending that there is a distinction between a character's existence and a character's being purely fictional?

Ed, thanks for helping me get up to speed! (I think it's fantastic that the two of you have been having a discussion on this sort of topic for years! Heck, I can barely get most people to discuss these sorts of issues for more then five minutes before they change the subject, and none too subtly, I might add!)

Dr. Vallicella, I wonder if we might appeal to a point made by Evans to begin to sketch a way of understanding negative existentials within a pretense view of vacuous names (I should add that I'm not well read on pretense at all -- a few articles at best, and most of them just touched on it (I was researching an essay on empty names) -- so I'm just 'thinking aloud' here):

"The general idea is that someone who utters such a sentence [as, e.g. 'Sherlock Holmes does not exist'] should be likened to someone who makes a move within a pretense in order to express the fact that it is a pretense. He is not like someone who tries to prevent a theatre audience from being too carried away by jumping up on the stage and saying:“Look,these men are only actors,and there is no scaffold or buildings here– there are only props.” Rather,he is like someone who jumps up on the stage and says: “Look,Suzanne and the thief over there are only characters in a play,and this scaffold and these build-ings are just props.” The audience must be engaged,or be prepared to engage, in the make-believe,in order to understand what he is saying."

I won't pretend to understand Evans's views on existence, but this part seems to me to be relevant to the ideas we're discussing. As I see it, Evans's point is that a pretense must be exposed as a pretense (i.e. denied) from 'the inside' if we're to understand the meaning of a negative existential sentence. I'm not sure if this helps much with the problems you raised, though. (And I have no idea how to deal with IV type sentences; still, I'm reminded of the following passage from a column by Victor Davis Hanson:

"The recollection of ideas and thoughts can turn drudgery into something at least a little better. I once read Les Miserables and the memoirs of U.S. Grant simultaneously each night, and by day sprayed pre-emergent herbicide (in those pre-green days, per acre: ½ pound of Simazine, ½ pound of Karmex, washed down with spreader and some Parquat) all day long. Gradually the leaks, the toxicity, and the monotony of one sprayed row after another vanished. My head had gone underground into 1832 Paris and then came out again to the tricky siege of Vicksburg. That trance could mean the herbicide might once or twice miss the berm (and we would not recommend that 757 pilots dip into their Tolstoy during autopilot sessions), but for a time I was no longer cold and wet."

I've had the pleasure of having my head filled with thoughts about vacuous names and artifacts and meaning and assertion and pretense for the last few days while working, and the time flew by, so I greatly appreciate the additional puzzles, and the never ending challenges to the ones that have already been discussed!)

I will simply repeat my argument in the other thread.

(*) Bone, who is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic, is living in a flat in Earl’s Court.

The argument is that either the predicates ‘is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic’ and ‘is living in a flat in Earl’s Court’ have no subject, or they have the same subject. Either way, Van Inwagen’s theory is wrong.

If they have no subject, then ‘is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic’ has no subject, but PvI argues that the subject is an abstract object. If they have the same subject, then if the subject of ‘is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic’ is an abstract object, then so is the subject of ‘is living in a flat in Earl’s Court’, which he also denies.

Either way, his theory cannot explain sentences like the one above.

Glad to see you got hold of Hangover Square, Bill.

>>(I think it's fantastic that the two of you have been having a discussion on this sort of topic for years!

This is not necessarily a positive thing.


I'm a little uncomfortable with (*) in that it seems to be written in a mixture of the lit crit and the authorial modes. I suspect there are some ambiguities present which would disappear if the names were to be properly introduced, as you recommend. For example, from within the story, Hamilton could be a journalist who has written a profile of Bone for a theatrical paper.

>>I'm a little uncomfortable with (*) in that it seems to be written in a mixture of the lit crit and the authorial modes.

If I am right, it is not really a mixture. As I argue, there is an implicit but unstated story-operator in (*). It really means

(**) In the story, Bone, who is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic, is living in a flat in Earl’s Court.

The story operator covers the part 'Bone ... is is living in a flat in Earl’s Court', but not the part 'who is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic', i.e. the sentence does not assert 'The story says that Bone is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic'. Rather, 'The story says that Bone is living in a flat in Earl’s Court, and depicts him as a sad alcoholic'. The problem is simply down to a looseness of language which certain metaphysicians like to cite as evidence for intractable metaphysical problems.

As you neatly point out, it could mean that Hamilton is a character in the story who depicts Bone in some way, but that is also down to the looseness and ambiguity of ordinary language.

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