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  • Defending Author-Essentialism
  • Jeffrey Goodman

A growing number of metaphysicians and philosophers of language—call them fictionalists—accept the claim that fictional individuals, that is, the sorts of individuals mentioned in works of fiction (for example, Sherlock Holmes, the U.S.S. Enterprise, the kerchief around Dmitri Karamazov's neck) actually exist. They believe there really is such a thing, for example, as Sherlock Holmes, and given a suitable context, the name "Holmes" can succeed in referring to that entity.1 One species of fictionalist is the creationist. The creationist is one who accepts that fictional individuals are abstracta that are brought into existence by the authors responsible for the fictional works in which those individuals are mentioned. According to creationism, authors do not "tap into" a realm of necessarily existing abstracta and there discover an individual identical to Holmes, for example; rather, authors actively create individuals such as Holmes in writing (or orally communicating) stories about them. Fictional individuals on this view are thus contingently existing abstracta; they are non-concrete artifacts of our world and various other possible worlds.2

Most creationists are also author-essentialists. That is, they also accept the following stronger thesis: the author (or authors)3 responsible for bringing a fictional individual into existence at a time is essential to the existence of that individual.4 According to author-essentialism, it is impossible that distinct authors at distinct times create one and the same fictional individual because it is impossible that distinct authors at distinct times write (or orally communicate) one and the same story. [End Page 200]

Author-essentialism, of course, has its detractors.5 Harry Deutsch, for instance, has gone so far as to call the view "patently absurd."6 However, I think author-essentialism is correct. At least, I believe that if fictional individuals exist, and if such individuals are the creations of the authors responsible for the works in which they are mentioned, then the author responsible for bringing a fictional individual into existence at a time is essential to the existence of that individual. In this paper I wish to defend author-essentialism from an argument that has recently been put forth by one detractor in particular: Takashi Yagisawa (2001).

Before I proceed to consideration of Yagisawa's argument, I think it is important that we say a bit more about the central theses accepted by the creationist/author-essentialist. We stated above that according to these views, Holmes, for example, exists not only here but in various other possible worlds. Which worlds exactly? He exists in all and only the worlds where Doyle and the appropriate creative events involving Doyle exist. Holmes is, in other words, ontologically dependent on Doyle and Doyle's literary works. It is the establishment of this dependence relation that is fundamental to what an author does when she succeeds in creating a fictional individual.7

Amie Thomasson (1999) is a creationist/author-essentialist who has provided some helpful elaboration, however, of the nature of this dependence relation, as well as some elaboration on the dependence relation that obtains between fictional individuals and the literary works in which they are mentioned.8 According to Thomasson, the sort of dependence a fictional individual bears to the intentional acts of its creator is rigid historical dependence. The dependence here is rigid—as opposed to generic—because it is a dependence on an individual intentional act or a number of individual acts rather than a dependence on a general type of act or acts; it is historical because the fictional entity depends on the acts of its creator to come into existence initially, but it may continue to exist once those creative acts have ceased. This is opposed to constant dependence, the sort of dependence in which the dependent entity exists at all and only the times when the entity on which it depends exists.

Applying Thomasson's remarks to the fundamental notion of creationism given above, we may say that the creation of a fictional individual entails the establishment of a relation of rigid historic dependence of an abstract individual on the intentional acts of some agent.9 But not any agent suffices; there is a...


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