Fiction and emotion

In Amy Kind (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Imagination. New York: Routledge. pp. 217-229 (2016)
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Engagement with fiction often inspires emotional responses. We may pity Sethe while feeling ambivalent about her actions (in Beloved), fear for Ellen Ripley as she battles monstrous creatures (in Alien), get angry at Okonkwo for killing Ikemefuna (in Things Fall Apart), and hope that Kiyoaki and Satoko find love (in Spring Snow). Familiar as they are, these reactions are puzzling. Why do I respond emotionally if I do not believe that these individuals exist or that the events occurred? If I merely imagine that my best friend has betrayed me, I do not become angry with him; if I did, I would be considered irrational. Yet although beliefs seem to be necessary for emotions in other contexts, we respond to fiction without the relevant beliefs. These observations prompt two questions about our emotional responses to fiction (henceforth: fictional emotions). The first is descriptive: Should fictional emotions be classified as the same kind of emotions we experience in other contexts? The second is normative: Are fictional emotions irrational or otherwise inappropriate? I take each of these debates in turn.

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Stacie Friend
Birkbeck, University of London


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