The Ockham Society (Friday - Week 3, MT21)

Ockham Society

Sherlock Holmes was a detective who was sixty years old in 1914 and who lived at 221B Baker Street. And yet, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character invented by Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1880s, and no detective has ever lived at 221B Baker Street. The latter statements contradict the former, although of course only on a naïve reading. If we (non-naïvely) assent to statements like ‘Sherlock Holmes lives at 221B Baker Street’, it is only because we are pretending they are true as part of our engagement with the fiction. We do not import them into our view of what the world is like, which is what we do with statements that we seriously take to be true. 

Walton argues that metafictional statements, like the claim that Sherlock Holmes was created by Conan Doyle, also involve pretence—there are no fictional characters. Contra Walton, Thomasson presents an account according to which fictional characters are real entities, although they are abstract, members of a social kind of the same sort as novels and musical pieces. 

A main worry with Thomasson’s account is that it is not at all obvious how we can even pretend that an abstract entity is concrete, e.g. that it is a detective who lives in London, solves crimes, smokes a pipe, and the like. According to Williamson’s necessitist view, however, there are entities that are neither concrete nor abstract, namely the entities that are merely possible. For such entities, their non-concreteness is merely contingent. I argue that fictional characters are entities of this kind. While they do not exist as concrete entities in the actual world, they do so in the possible worlds described by the fiction.

Ockham Society Convenors: Lara Scheibli and Kimon Sourlas - Kotzamanis | Ockham Society Website