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Monday, August 18, 2014


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FWIW I thought David's exposition was reasonably clear, even on first reading.

>>But (5) is false. For according to the novel, Bone is a real man.

We have been here before. I argued earlier that in

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

the name 'Bone' is the subject of both 'depicted by Hamilton' and 'living in a flat in Earl’s Court'. The solution is to see the elided story operator in square brackets.

Or try:

(**) Bone is a character introduced by the English writer Patrick Hamilton, who is [depicted by Hamilton as] an alcoholic living in Earl's Court.

The reason your (5) doesn't work is that you are putting the story operator in twice. It's already there with 'is a fictional character', so you shouldn't be putting it in again.

Good morning, Bill, and many thanks for the detailed response. Central to this view is the observation that in addition to all the things Hamilton tells us about Bone, we are also told, extra-authorially, that

Bone is a fictional item.
Grammatically, 'fictional item' looks to be a concept term. If it is, then we are being told something about Bone that Hamilton doesn't tell us. That is odd. Now I think there may be room in all of this for van Inwagen 'creatures of fiction', though Ed may disagree. We might identify fictional item, with creature of fiction. But lit-crit talk is about words and forms of words, ie, representations. It's convenient to refer to bits of the representation by reference to what they represent, just as an art critic will refer to certain bits of paint or brushstrokes by reference to the hair of the sitter as it appears in a portrait, say. What I'm reluctant to do is identify the represented, ie, Bone, with the representation, that is, say that Bone is a creature of fiction. There may be a c-of-f in all this, but it isn't Bone, if that makes sense. It could be your Bone*. Where does that leave 'fictional item' as denoting a concept? I simply deny that it is a concept term at all. I just can't see what the things are that fall under this apparent concept. Just as I can't see what the things are that fall under 'possible man'. So I say that doesn't denote a concept either. How then to explain the term 'fictional item'? I say it comes about through a linguistic surface transformation. Somehow, when we want to say 'Fictionally, Bone is an item' where we are in effect quoting the sentence 'Bone is an item' and saying something about it, that it comes from a work of fiction and one shouldn't worry about its truth value, what we end up saying is 'Bone is a fictional item'. Perhaps our minds are better at dealing with objects than sentences. As you reminded us recently, man is made of crooked timber. Maybe his language is rather warped too. In consequence I am extremely reluctant to use 'fictional' in an analysis of the puzzle, as you do in your (1*) and (2*), as if it were clear and well understood. My feeling is that the whole issue is one of elucidating how 'fictional' is to be used. My inclination is to say that strictly we should apply it to representations only, as in 'Jane Austen's Emma is fictional', referring to the work and not its main character.

Good morning, David.

I am not quite clear how you are using 'concept term.'

>>Grammatically, 'fictional item' looks to be a concept term. If it is, then we are being told something about Bone that Hamilton doesn't tell us. That is odd.<<

Hamilton in the novel proper tells us various things about Bone, e.g., that he is an alky, etc. He does not tell us in the novel proper that Bone is a fictional character. But he does tell us that or imply that on the cover -- Hangover Square: A Novel -- or in the pages before the novel proper begins: "Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental."

So I am puzzled already about what exactly it is you find odd.

I guess I am saying that the text of the novel proper is the sole source of information about Bone, how tall he is, what hair colour, etc, etc. All properties of a man. Can 'being a [purely] fictional character' be a property of a man? At best this would seem a category mistake. The material on the cover etc we take to be about the book, that it's a work of fiction, about an alcoholic called 'Bone', and so on

I would deny that 'fictional item' and 'creature of fiction' have the same sense. For one must not terminologically beg the question against those who deny that fictional items are created.

>> But lit-crit talk is about words and forms of words, ie, representations.<<

That is not obvious. What's more, I deny it. If I am thinking about Bone and how her personality differs from that of Netta, I am not thinking about any words or sentences in the novel, but about the characters conjured up by my understanding of the words. Right now I am thinking about Netta. I can describe her: she is a manipulative bitch who exploits the pussy-whipped Bone for her own selfish ends. Accurate or not, that description is about the characters. not about words or sentences. Of course, to defend my description I would have to revert to actual sentences in the novel. But the characters are distinct from the means whereby they are presented or represented, namely, the words and sentences.

Phenomenologically, this seems right. But I can also give an argument. Suppose the novel has been translated into German and I am discussing Bone and Netta with a German friend who read the novel in German but not in English. We are clearly not talking about the same sentences (tokens or types). But we are talking about the same characters. Therefore, lit-crit talk is not about linguistic representations.

>> Can 'being a [purely] fictional character' be a property of a man?<<

No. I think we agree that a fictional man is not a man. It is not as if there are two kinds of men, real men and fictional men.

But a fictional man such as Bone is not nothing: we can think about him and his properties, talk about him, compare him to other purely fictional character and also compare him with real people.

If we say that Bone is an abstract artifact, then we can accommodate your point that a fictional man is not a man -- since no abstract object is a man or a woman either -- and also the point that Bone is not nothing.

I understand 'c-of-f', I think. I don't understand 'fictional item' as a concept term---viewed as such it leads to contradiction---but I do understand sentences in which the term 'fictional item' appears.

Your thoughts about Netta aren't lit-crit as I understand it. You are engaging with Netta as a person that may have been described to you by a mutual friend (in English or in German) and whom you would take to be real. I assume lit-crit is about the effectiveness, style, originality, of the writing, relating this to the life of the author, his times, what he is trying to say about the H.C. and so on, where the artificiality of the whole shebang is explicit and essential to the talk. One can't do lit-crit without the former engagement, of course, and it may be hard to label a thought or sentence as one or the other, but the two polarities are there, I'd say.

My position on 'fictional' is quite narrow and completely independent of PVI's c-of-f concept, I think.

Is 'fictional character' a concept term? Consider

(1) On p. 1 of Pride and Prejudice it says that someone has leased Netherfield.

That statement is true. We can also replace ‘someone’ by different proper names to give true or false statements. E.g.

(2a) On p. 1 of Pride and Prejudice it says that Darcy has leased Netherfield. (FALSE)

(2b) On p. 1 of Pride and Prejudice it says that Bingley has leased Netherfield. (TRUE)

And so on. So there is a sense in which ‘said by Jane Austen to have leased Netherfield’ is a concept term, satisfied by the name ‘Bingley’, but not by the name ‘Darcy’ or ‘Mr. Bennet’ and so on. But only insofar as it is satisfied within the propositional attitude. Once you move outside, you always get something false, because there are no such people as Darcy, Bingley etc. It is false to say that anything (where ‘anything’ has widest possible scope) is such that it satisfies that predicate. We merely have a sentence which is true or false as you replace different proper names for ‘someone’.


I don't think we are engaging with each other at all.

I need a definition of 'concept term.'

Bill, re 'concept term', something like this:
Any of the wide class C of extension-bearing terms that's closed under composition as follows. If X in C and Y in C with extensions X* and Y* respectively then XY is in C and has extension (XY)* = X* ⋂ Y*. Includes 'black', 'horse', 'female', 'Roman', 'black horse', 'female horse', 'female Roman', and so on.

@David “extension-bearing term” is slippery. Consider

(*) In War and Peace, Tolstoy said that – was an army officer .

This predicate has a wide extension, covering officers in the Russian, French and Prussian commands. Some of them are fictional, some aren’t. We could even construct a Venn diagram consisting of fictional versus non-fictional officers, French vs non-French officers, look at the intersection or union of such extensions and so on. But I don’think this would get us very far, because talking of ‘extension’ of concepts or predicates invites the very kind of Meinongianism that Londoners should be keen to avoid.

Sainsbury's *Fiction and Fictionalism arrived yesterday. I wonder how much Ed has been influenced by this.

Yes, and we'd get a picture of what Tolstoy said and didn't say, which is not necessarily the same as what is and isn't the case. Can I not rule out by fiat the slippery predicates formed by substituting into a quotation? We all draw a distinction between the way we think things are and what others tell us. This strikes me as being at the heart of the matter. We have bits of information which we take to be about the world and we also have bits of information about the bits of information, like who we learned it from, and when, plus judgements as to its reliability.

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