Mental Fictionalism: the costly combination of magic and the mind

In Tamás Demeter, T. Parent & Adam Toon (eds.), Mental Fictionalism: Philosophical Explorations. New York & London: Routledge (2022)
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Mental fictionalism is not the benign view that we may better understand the mind if we think of mental states as something like useful fictions, but the more radical view that mental states just are useful fictions. This paper argues that, if one were to treat mental states as a kind of fiction, the genre of fiction best suited to this purpose would be fantasy make-believe, in which magic is a central feature. After defending a promising fictionalist account of mental discourse as a kind of prop-oriented make believe against recent criticism, the paper ultimately concludes that mental fictionalism faces further, potentially insurmountable, challenges. Most significantly, there is a problematic disanalogy between folk psychology and fiction: our mental state attributions aim to track truth, and this crucial aspect of our mental discourse cannot be captured if we interpret it as a kind of fictional discourse. For this and other reasons, the cost of adopting mental fictionalism likely outweighs its benefits. Whether or not these problems can be resolved, there is still much to be gained from taking mental fictionalism seriously: in doing so we may illuminate several important features of our own folk psychology that often go unnoticed.

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Amber Ross
University of Florida


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