Sunday, June 08, 2008

Brandon: reply on fictional creation

Brandon (who has an excellent and praiseworthy internet residence called Siris) asks whether "Does writing [a fiction about a planet) miraculously create a fictional object the size of Jupiter?" should not really be "Does this describe a fictional miraculously created object the size of Jupiter?"

A good and Brandonesque objection. Well, the question is whether fictional statements (as opposed to merely false ones) 'bestow' properties on fictional objects. If so fictional statements have to be true.

(1) The statement that A is B 'bestows' B upon the fictional A, according to the theory.

(2) So A now has B.

(3) Since the fictional statement 'A is B' now corresponds to the fictional reality, the statement 'A is B' is true as a result.

This raises the question of when the fictional A begins to exist. I suppose it could coherently be held that A always existed, because the author was going to write about A, but that doesn't altogether make sense. What if the world were to turn out otherwise? What happens to the fictional object in a possible world where no one wrote about 'it'?

More plausible (plausibility being relative) is that the fictional object is created just as soon as I talk or write about it. It doesn't possess any properties until I 'bestow' them by making the fictional claim. So why shouldn't we suppose that the existence of the object is also bestowed at the point of writing. Another argument for this is that it is absurd for the the object to exist before it has any properties 'bestowed' upon it, so that there exists an object without any properties whatsoever (except perhaps of existence). Another problem is that this view requires existence being a property, so does it possess this property before the author has said that exists, i.e. bestows existence upon it?

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8 Comments:

Blogger tanas said...

I haven't read lot of the discussions done, so there is big chance that I will say something unrelated. Sorry about that...

Shouldn't we say that the object exist only as part of (or within) the fiction, and that it has or doesn't have properties only in that context?

It's appearance, existence and disappearance are not then related to the events in the real world, but to the other events in the fiction in which that something is a part.

Of course, the existence of the story is related to other events in the real world, and hence will be connected to its writing, publishing, reading, retelling, and so on...

10:56 pm  
Blogger David Brightly said...

Having now figured out how to leave a comment on blogger...

My suspicion is that there are (at least) two ways of thinking about fictions and it pays not to mix them up.

The first way sees a work of fiction as a depiction, or perhaps a partial selection of a possible world. Talk of the author 'bestowing' properties on fictional objects has to be understood in terms of selecting out a subset of possible worlds, with the objects becoming better and better defined as the story proceeeds. By the end of the fiction we are still left with manifold worlds which 'satisfy' the story, which is why we cannot tell if Hamlet is taller than six feet or not. In this interpretation the time of creation of a fictional object is probably undefined, occurring at different times in the different possible worlds that we are left with at the end, and we simply don't speak of the time of creation of possible worlds themselves.

The second way sees a work of fiction as something like a design, plan, or specification. The sense of the author 'bestowing' properties is stronger in this interpretation. It is much like an architect saying that, in his design, the house has brick walls and a slate roof. We don't concern ourselves here with the time of creation of the imagined house---we see it as a timeless abstract object, much as we tend to think of mathematical objects and structures, so if we can talk about these I see no problems talking about fictional objects.

So, in conclusion, it's not clear to me that arguments based on the notion of the time of creation of putative 'fictional objects' have any bite.

11:41 am  
Blogger Ocham said...

TANAS >>> Shouldn't we say that the object exist only as part of (or within) the fiction, and that it has or doesn't have properties only in that context? It's appearance, existence and disappearance are not then related to the events in the real world, but to the other events in the fiction in which that something is a part.

The question is whether there are such objects (i.e. objects existing within a fiction). The existential conservative (that’s me) will say there aren’t such things at all. To anyone who says there are such things, there must be a question of how they are related to events in the real world, such as writing about them. And what about our knowledge of them? We know that Sherlock Holmes was a detective. Our knowing about this is an event (so to speak) that is directly related to Conan Doyle writing about him.

DAVID B.>>>> The first way sees a work of fiction as a depiction, or perhaps a partial selection of a possible world. Talk of the author 'bestowing' properties on fictional objects has to be understood in terms of selecting out a subset of possible worlds, with the objects becoming better and better defined as the story proceeeds.

Are there any possible worlds corresponding to fictions that have not yet been written? Or to fictions that never will be written, but might have been written? Talk of a ‘subset’ of possible worlds suggests there is a possible world for every possible thing that could happen, then we ‘select’ subsets of this set. I.e. there is a possible world containing a Holmes who was a carpenter, not a detective? And what does ‘objects becoming better and better defined’ mean? Is that that the object possesses both the property of being a carpenter and a detective, but once the author states they are a detective, the carpenter property is destroyed? Or are the properties built up? Are these possible worlds really possible? Can there be a possible world where someone is both a detective and not a detective? I would say, since such a thing is impossible, there is no such world. Can there be a possible world where someone is neither a detective nor a non-detective? I would say, for the same reason, there is no such world.

2:46 pm  
Blogger Ocham said...

David on your second point, I hit return too soon. But in any case there is a good reference I have on this, and I will post again shortly. Thanks for reminding me of this line of attack.

2:54 pm  
Blogger David Brightly said...

I'd say that the 'possible worlds' interpretation could only apply to fictions that aim at broadly logical consistency. I can't make much sense of a fiction in which the author says that someone is a detective and a non-detective at the same time (unless we are allowed to take this very loosely indeed)!

Are there any possible worlds corresponding to fictions that have not yet been written? Or to fictions that never will be written, but might have been written? Yes, if my understanding of the philosophical notion of 'possible world' as used to explain modal constructions, is right, why not? Subject to the constraint of logical consistency, of course. I'm just using possible worlds as models of the fiction.

By ‘objects becoming better and better defined’ I mean that as the fiction proceeds, we acquire more and more information about its objects. Thus fewer and fewer possible worlds satisfy the story. And none of them if the author becomes inconsistent. This is a weakness---we can easily accommodate 'small' inconsistencies in a novel or film, just as a drawing containing an 'impossible object' in a corner can be 'mostly' understood.

Looking forward to your next post. Cordially, DB

3:47 pm  
Blogger David Brightly said...

Oops, didn't answer all your queries.
Can there be a possible world where someone is neither a detective nor a non-detective? No, but a fiction in which we are not told x's occupation could be satisfied by a possible world in which x is a detective and also by one in which x is not a detective, provided both possible worlds satisfy all the other stipulations of the fiction. Both are models of the fiction.

4:05 pm  
Blogger Ocham said...

This makes sense but doesn't agree with the notion of 'incompleteness' that the 'bestowing' theory requires, as I understand it.

Your notion corresponds to mine: the objects are epistemically incomplete in we may not know whether they have a cousin, or bank with Barclays, or not, but nonetheless are really complete in that propositions about them obey the relevant logical laws.

With the theory in question, I think the objects are genuinely incomplete. They only have in reality the properties bestowed upon them. Thus if it is not asserted either that Holmes has a brother, or that he does not have a brother, he has neither of these contradictories.

And if Doyle had said that Holmes was a detective, and that he wasn't a detective, both of these contradictory statements would be true of Holmes.

I won't swear to understanding the theory, however. Best

6:06 pm  
Blogger tanas said...

Not sure I understand what exoistentical conservativism would ammoutn to. Wouldn't you agree that there is a detective in A.C.Doyle' stories? Of course, being in a story, it is a fictional character, and not a real one. But it is a fictional person, and it can't be fictional person, without being fictional thing - without fictionally existing. If we can't imagine fictional existence, we can't imagine fictional anything.

>>To anyone who says there are such things, there must be a question of how they are related to events in the real world, such as writing about them. And what about our knowledge of them? We know that Sherlock Holmes was a detective. Our knowing about this is an event (so to speak) that is directly related to Conan Doyle writing about him.

Wouldn't the answer be easy? The stories as stories are real phenomena, they are written, told, read, and so on. And as stories they include fictional characters which have fictional existence within the stories.

Or is the issue if there is truth of matter about properties of those things. Can't we say that because those are fictional things, as for all thigns there have to be truths of matter, but in this case those are also fictional truths, and not real one.
So, the solution would be that we have knowledge of fictional truths, and not real truths.

6:27 pm  

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