Imagining fictional contradictions

Synthese 199 (1-2):3169-3188 (2020)
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It is widely believed, among philosophers of literature, that imagining contradictions is as easy as telling or reading a story with contradictory content. Italo Calvino’s The Nonexistent Knight, for instance, concerns a knight who performs many brave deeds, but who does not exist. Anything at all, they argue, can be true in a story, including contradictions and other impossibilia. While most will readily concede that we cannot objectually imagine contradictions, they nevertheless insist that we can propositionally imagine them, and regularly do, simply by entertaining a text which prompts us to do so. I argue that this narrative does not bear scrutiny for two main reasons. First, because propositional imagining is beside the point, where truth in fiction is concerned; evaluating truth in fiction engages the cognitive architecture in ways that prohibit the mobilization of merely propositional imagination to that end. And second, because it is not obvious, given the strategies usually suggested, that we ever propositionally imagine contradictions in the first place—in fact, it seems we go out of our way to avoid directly imagining them.

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Michel-Antoine Xhignesse
Capilano University


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