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Notes and Fragments FICTIONAL CHARACTERS AREJUST LIKE US by David B. Suits We can all understand a claim that an author creates truths about his characters; if he is the creator of his characters, then he must perforce be the creator of truths about them. The reader, we may then suppose, is a discoverer of those truths. (Sometimes the creator will feel constrained by something within his own creations. Perhaps, for example, he is restricted by historical circumstances in which the characters have been placed. But, of course, it is the creator who accepts such constraints.) And we can understand the claim that real persons, in contrast, are quite different. Specifically, real persons have attributes which are independent of—and do not exist on account of— what anyone may think. But if a fictional character has certain attributes because the author assigned them, and if the fictional character lacks certain other attributes because the author assigned their lack, then what shall we say of attributes neither affirmed nor denied? Peter Lamarque offers a plausible explanation: Characters [in fiction] are radically unlike individuals in diat for a great number of properties it seems to be neither true that they have that property nor true that they do not have that property: hence the much discussed case of the mole on Sherlock Holmes's back. There is nothing in the Holmes canon that indicates whether Holmes does or does not have a mole on his back and diere is no form of inference that will allow us to determine the matter one way or die other. Accounts of fictional characters as possible individuals will have difficulty accommodating facts Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 105-108 106Philosophy and Literature such as this; individuals, it seems, must either possess or lack every property. But if characters are no more than sets ofproperties then there is no requirement that every property or its negation be a member of the set.1 But let us not be hasty. Two cautions are in order. Some properties of a character may reasonably be affirmed or denied by the reader as being necessary on the basis of properties affirmed or denied by the author. Just what force "necessary" should have, however, is not clear. IfHolmes said, "Elementary, my dear Watson," then I might reasonably infer that Holmes had vocal chords. It would, I suppose, also be logically consistent with the Holmes stories that sometimes Holmes and Watson communicated telepathically. In any case, many possible properties could not in this way be affirmed or denied by the reader without the reader's assuming more control over the character than convention allows. Thus, a reader's affirming or denying a mole on Holmes's back would appear to be a case of unwarranted presumption of authority. What can be said of such left-over properties? We are led to the second caution. Rather than saying that fictional characters have only those properties given by the author, we ought perhaps to say that we kam about those properties given by the author. Did James Bond drive a Saab? There is no mention ofsuch an event in all of Ian Fleming's novels. But wait: after Fleming's death,John Gardner carried on, and in one of the Gardner novels, Bond drove a Saab. It seems possible, similarly, that within one of the stories about Holmes not penned by Conan Doyle, we can learn whether Holmes had a mole on his back. Part way through the publication of the Holmes series, readers had learned some things about Holmes, whereas they remained ignorant about other things. Each time a new story appeared, readers learned something more. This might continue indefinitely, as long as there could be authors for new Holmes stories. Does this differ significanUy from your learning about my properties? The examination of me, like the presentation of Holmes, might continue indefinitely. But, you say, it is not a matter of knowledge and ignorance; it is, rather, a matter offact that I do or do not actually have a mole on my back, whereas it is not a matter of fact whether Holmes had a mole on his back. But I think this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 105-108
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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