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Thursday, July 24, 2014


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>>'Tom Sawyer was a boy who grew up along the banks of Mississippi River in the 1840s' is not an actual predication but a sentence that expresses the relation of HOLDING that obtains between the fictional entity and the property expressed by 'was a boy who grew up, etc.'

This is an exposition of PvI's view, correct? As I understand it, he wants to explain how statements like 'Tom Sawyer was friends with Huck Finn' can be true. But I have a question here. Sometimes when we are watching a film at home, F. goes downstairs for a few minutes and ask me to 'tell her what happens', i.e. follow the plot as best I can and tell her when she gets back. I am notoriously bad at following plots or identifying which character is which, and often get this wrong. So she has a clear sense of what is correct and incorrect, i.e. true and false, when it comes to film plots. But this only means: repeating accurately or appropriately summarising what was recounted in the story.

There are also sections of the downmarket press which summarise what 'happens' in the soaps. Again, the readers would be disappointed if these summaries were inaccurate. Wikipedia also has plot summaries, e.g. "Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid. Tom dirties his clothes in a fight and is made to whitewash the fence the next day as punishment. He cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work." If we edited Wikipedia (as everyone can) to say "Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his sisters Lizzie, Jane, Kitty, Lydia and Mary", then this would properly be regarded as incorrect, indeed wholly false (Lizzie, Jane, Kitty, Lydia and Mary are actually characters in Pride and Prejudice).

But we need no special 'ontology' or theory of existence or abstract objects to explain how plot summaries can be 'correct' or 'incorrect'. It's very simple. If my plot summary says that p, and the film or book or story says or implies that p, then my summary is correct. Otherwise not. Or is this terminology of 'HOLDS' simply meant to capture this fact? Thus the summary in Wikipedia should correctly read "Tom Sawyer HOLDS the property of living with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid". Why the fuss?

On a separate note, the statement "Keira Knightley plays Lizzie Bennet in the 2005 film" is unquestionably true. But it is preposterous to suppose that it asserts some relation between Keira Knightley and some Object.


If you are planning to publish on fiction, then you need to be familiar with PvI's theory and a number of others besides.

I am not sure you understand what is going on in his theory. There are sentences that occur WITHIN a piece of fiction, and there are sentences that do not so occur, but are ABOUT fictional entities. For example, 'Tom Sawyer is a character in a novel by Mark Twain' does not occur in the novel but is about a fictional entity.

PvI wants to explain how a sentence like the latter can be true. This sentence would not occur in a plot summary of the novel in question.

I suggest you carefully read PvI's two papers to which I linked, especially the first. I think discussing them would be mutually beneficial.

I have been commissioned to write a longish review article on PvI's collection of essays, Existence, which is my immediate interest in all this.

I have just re-read 'Creatures of Fiction', APQ 1977, where we have [adapting slightly]

1. Mrs Gamp was a fat old woman with a husky voice and a moist eye.

2. Mrs Gamp was a fair representation of the hired attendant on the poor in sickness in 1843.

As he points out, these statements are quite different. For example, it makes no sense to say 'no, Mrs Gamp is quite thin, about 24, and her voice is melodious'. Yet it does make sense to say 'no, the hired attendant in 1843 was more like Florence Nightingale'. And you wouldn't make a claim like statement 2 above in a novel itself. You wouldn't say that Mrs Gamp was an old woman and a representation. You wouldn't say in LoTR that Frodo is Christlike (since the history of Middle Earth does not contain Christ, or Christians).

Does this correctly represent his theory? And how does this relate to the point I raise above, which is unquestionably correct?

Well, PvI's theory is not that there is a distinction between sentences like (1) and sentences like (2). That distinction is a datum any theory has to accommodate. (1) is a sentence that occurs in the Dickens novel. (2) does not occur in the novel, and I suppose could not, except as an aside by the author, or as a footnote in a critical edition; (2) is the sort of sentence a literary critic might make.

Part of PvI's theory is that 'Mrs Gamp' in (1) does not refer to anything while 'Mrs Gamp' in (2) does refer to something, not a Meinongian nonexistent object, but an existent object. See the end of section IV of "Creatures of Fiction" where PvI sums up his theory.

>>And how does this relate to the point I raise above, which is unquestionably correct?<<

First a bit of pedantry. I should think that one does not raise a point, but makes a point, just as one does not make a question, but raises a question.

In any case, which of the points you make above are you referring to?

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