Dissertation, University of Sheffield (2011
Fictional characters are awkward creatures. They are described as being girls, wizards and detectives, as being famous, based on real people, and well developed, and as being paradigmatic examples of things that don’t exist. It’s not hard to see that there are tensions between these various descriptions — how can something that is a detective not exist? — and there is a range of views designed to make sense of the pre-theoretical data.
Proponents of some views are fictional realists, who hold that we should accept that fictional characters are part of ‘the furniture of our world’. Others are fictional anti-realists, who hold instead that our world does not contain any such things. The realist and the anti-realist thus disagree about ontology and about which alleged entities we should be prepared to embrace an ontological commitment to. But behind this ontological dispute lies a methodological one that has all too often been left implicit. This dispute concerns the very nature of ontological inquiry: its subject matter, its aims, and its methodology.
This thesis aims to bring these methodological issues to the fore. I show how the arguments realists have offered in favour of their views rely on crucial ‘metaontological’ assumptions about what ontological questions are and how they should be answered. In addition to casting doubt on some of the more orthodox approaches to ontological inquiry, my positive goal is to deploy an independently motivated metaontology to defend a novel version of fictional anti-realism. On the view I develop and defend, the central task we face is that of explaining truths concerning fictional characters, where the relevant notion of explanation is distinctively metaphysical in character. Fictional anti-realism emerges as the plausible thesis that truths about fictional entities can be completely explained in terms of the existence and features of other things.