Catharine AbellDec 4, 2020
A Philosophical Analysis
Oxford University Press 2020
In Fiction: A Philosophical Analysis (Oxford University Press, 2020), Catharine Abell draws our attention to the character of Emma Woodhouse. She is handsome, clever, and rich. Or, at least, that's what Jane Austen writes about her in her fictional novel Emma. But why should we consider this a work of fiction, if it says true things about 19th century England? And if it's a fiction, how should we understand and interpret its content? Do we need to know what Austen intended to understand what she says about Emma? And how can we judge the truth of claims about a fictional entity? Do these characters need to exist for us to talk about them? Abell answers these questions in a unifying account of the epistemology and metaphysics of fiction which engages with existing and influential theories. Fictions are institutions governed by rules. On this view, we understand the content of fictive utterances by convention, though we can draw inferences to the best explanation about those utterances to a work's interpretive content, such as why Austen wrote the way she did. For Abell, fictional entities exist in the same way that marriages and corporations do, created by utterances which follow institutional rules, so that we can think and talk about Emma's fictionally having lots of money, even if there was no person "Emma" who had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
Malcolm Keating is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Yale-NUS College. His research focuses on Sanskrit philosophy of language and epistemology. He is the author of Language, Meaning, and Use in Indian Philosophy (Bloomsbury Press, 2019) and host of the podcast Sutras (and stuff).