Worlds without End: A Platonist Theory of Fiction

Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (2021)
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Abstract

I first ask what it is to make up a story. In order to answer that question, I give existence and identity conditions for stories. I argue that a story exists whenever there is some narrative content that has intentionally been made accessible. I argue that stories are abstract types, individuated by the conditions that must be met by something in order to be a properly formed token of the type. However, I also argue that the truth of our story identity attributions---sentences like, "Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings is the same story as JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings''---are relative to their context of use, so that the same attribution of identity might be true in one context or false in another because of a change in what's being said about the works in the differing contexts. From those existence and identity conditions, I draw the conclusions that story is best understood to be a phase sortal of some abstract types, and that what it is to make up a story is to identify a type of narrative representation and its content, such that the content is neither based on actual events nor on the content of other stories to an objectionable degree. In chapter 2, I ask what it is for a story to be complete. I argue for the general meta-thesis I call "Completion Pluralism", viz. that there are many kinds of artwork completeness, many corresponding senses of 'complete', and no kind of artwork completeness is objectively more important than any other. I give a pair of arguments against those who would deny Completion Pluralism, endorsing Completion Monism instead. First, I show how Monistic analyses of the one (or one most important) kind of artwork completeness fail. I also show that each Monistic theory's failure is contingent on the assumption of Completion Monism: the denial of Completion Monism dissolves each argument against the extensional adequacy of extant theories of artwork completeness. I argue that this is all best explained by the idea that Completion Pluralism is true. Second, I argue that Completion Pluralism fits best with the variety of interests that we bring to questions about artwork completeness: there is no single or overriding concern we have when we want to know whether an artwork is complete. We shouldn't expect completeness to be a single sort of thing, then. I show how to put Completion Pluralism to work by identifying different kinds of artwork completeness in artworks. Finally, I introduce a new kind of completeness particular to stories, what I call "narrative completion", and show how it's distinct from other kinds of completeness discussed. In chapter 3, I argue that the distinction between fictional and non-fictional stories is the degree to which stories are made-up. In short, a fictional story is a made-up story. I first provide a couple desiderata for thinking about theories of fiction, then show how the two most popular extant theories of fiction---the prop theory and the genre theory---fall short in meeting one or more of those desiderata to some extent. I then show how the theory that fictions are made-up stories better meets the desiderata, using my account of what it is to make up a story from chapter 1. I turn to explicitly ontological matters in chapter 4. Addressing the question of what stories are, I show that both the theses that they are eternal and immutable and that they are created and historical seem plausible for independent reasons. I discuss a schema of an argument some philosophers who hold to the latter view (those I call "Creationists") attempt to give for their view. However, I show how those who hold to the view that stories are eternal and immutable ("Platonists") can account for all the same appearances as the Creationists, usually at least as well and sometimes with a better accounting. Similar, deductive arguments for Platonism will give rise to similar responses from the Creationist, however. In the end, then, the style of argument in particular is unlikely to advance the discussion much. Finally, I attempt to advance the discussion by building an abductive case for Platonism. First, I vindicate a particular metaontological methodology for the debate at hand, a methodology that allows for "revisionary" outcomes in our ontologies of art objects. Second, I build a case for Platonism by arguing that it best explains a number of features of stories discussed in the previous chapters. Moreover, I argue that Creationism is committed to an implausible account of how some abstract objects come into existence. Given the combination of those facts, I argue that we should prefer Platonism to Creationism.

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Patrick Grafton-Cardwell
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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References found in this work

Meaning.Herbert Paul Grice - 1957 - Philosophical Review 66 (3):377-388.
Fiction and Metaphysics.Amie L. Thomasson - 1998 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Reference and Existence: The John Locke Lectures.Saul A. Kripke - 2013 - New York: Oxford University Press.
The Nature of Fiction.Gregory Currie - 1990 - Cambridge University Press.
Counterpart theory and quantified modal logic.David Lewis - 1968 - Journal of Philosophy 65 (5):113-126.

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