PHIL 739

Philosophy of Language


Language and Fiction

This course covers central issues in the philosophy of fiction, a fast-growing area in philosophy that borders on aesthetics, the philosophy of language, and metaphysics, and is concerned with philosophical issues arising from the idea of a work of fiction. A subset of the following issues will be discussed in class.

  1. What is a work of fiction?  How should we understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction, and why is the difference important (if it is)?
  2. What account can we give of fictional truths like ‘In the Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes was a brilliant detective’?
  3. When we engage with fiction, we often do so at an emotional level: we feel deep pity for Anna Karenina, for example. But how can we possibly have emotions for what doesn’t exist? And how can such emotions be at all rational?
  4. ‘Holmes was a brilliant detective’ doesn’t seem genuinely true (since there is no Holmes), but ‘Holmes is a fictional detective, ‘Holmes is better known than most real detectives’, and so on, do seem like genuine truths. But Holmes doesn’t exist, so what account can we give of their truth?
  5. How, for that matter, should we understand the truth of ‘Holmes doesn’t exist’? [The notorious problem of negative existentials.]
  6. Are there really such things as fictional characters? If so, what are they like?

View the course syllabus

Availability 2022

Not taught in 2022




PHIL 739: 15 points