Fictional Truth and Truth Through Fiction

Authored by: David Davies

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Literature

Print publication date:  December  2015
Online publication date:  December  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415889728
eBook ISBN: 9781315708935
Adobe ISBN:


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‘Fictional truth’ has an oxymoronic air for anyone who is tempted to equate the fictional with the false. Yet two much-discussed philosophical questions pertaining to fiction seek to elucidate senses in which ‘fictional truth’, far from being paradoxical, is central to our engagement with fictions. First, canonical fictions are narratives of some kind and to grasp any narrative requires that we understand what is being narrated. In one sense, an account of fictional truth seeks to explain what determines what is going on in a fictional story and how we are able to grasp this. This is usually termed the problem of ‘truth in fiction’, of elucidating the nature of what Gregory Currie (1990) terms ‘story meaning’. The second question is more contested. Philosophical treatments of ‘truth through fiction’ seek to make sense not of truths internal to fictional narratives but of truths that such narratives make manifest about states of affairs external to them. ‘Literary cognitivists’ maintain that, while a fictional narrative is in some sense ‘made up’, it can nevertheless help us to make out or understand the non-fictional world, and that this is one reason why some fictional narratives are highly valued. Opponents of literary cognitivism argue that fictional narratives fail to meet more general requirements on cognitive significance. Recent defenders of literary cognitivism have responded by situating standard narrative fictions in the context of a broader cognitive role for the imagination.

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