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Philosophical Perspectives on Fictional Characters

From: New Literary History
Volume 42, Number 2, Spring 2011
pp. 337-360 | 10.1353/nlh.2011.0016

Abstract

Abstract:

This paper takes up a series of basic philosophical questions about the nature and existence of fictional characters. We begin with realist approaches that hinge on the thesis that at least some claims about fictional characters can be right or wrong because they refer to something that exists, such as abstract objects. Irrealist approaches deny such realist postulations and hold instead that fictional characters are a figment of the human imagination. A third family of approaches, based on work by Alexius Meinong, seeks an alternative to the realist/irrealist dilemma. Neo-Meinongian theories rely upon a distinction between being and existence, the key contention being that unlike human beings, fictional characters have only the former. Having surveyed relevant work by contemporary metaphysicians and philosophers of language, this paper discusses issues related to the distinction between characters and other aspects of the content of fictions, including the relation between personality theory and literary conceptions of character.



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