Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fictional Realism, Nominalism, and Indeterminate Identity

I’ve posted a new paper: How to be a nominalist and a fictional realist. Here are the Cliff notes.

In my musical works paper, I argued that there are true claims proclaiming the existence of, and properties of, musical works, but that there weren’t really any musical works, because such claims were made true by an ontology that didn’t admit such things. In this paper, I attempt to tell a similar story for fictional characters. It’s literally true that the fictional character Bilbo Baggins exists, and it’s literally that he is a Hobbit according to the fiction The Lords of the Rings. But these claims can be made true without admitting fictional characters, or fictions, into our ontology. What makes them true, I suggest, are our acts of interpreting the fiction. Thus we can account for these truths with a nominalistically acceptable ontology (assuming, as I do, that there is in general a nominalistically acceptable account of the mental).

I also argue that the resulting view solves various puzzle cases concerning fictional characters. The most salient being Anthony Everett’s argument that fictional realism leads to untenable indeterminacy in identity. Everett argues that there are fictions in which it is indeterminate whether A is identical to B. The fictional realist believes in the fictional characters A and B. Whether the fictional characters are in reality identical is determined by whether they are identical according to the fiction to which they belong. So since it’s indeterminate whether they are identical in the fiction, it’s indeterminate in reality whether the fictional characters are identical. Reductio of fictional realist, given Evans’ argument against indeterminate identity.

I attempt to solve this puzzle by locating the source of the indeterminacy to indeterminacy in what fictional character is referred to, thus avoiding conflict with Evans’ conclusion (which is, as Lewis noted, directed only at indeterminate identity de re, not at indeterminacy in identity statements). Roughly, the idea is that when the fiction attempts to make an indeterminate identity, we are forced to interpret the fiction both ways. Given the above account, this results in there being two fictions, and two sets of fictional characters associated with each fiction, and it will as a result be indeterminate which fiction and which characters we refer to. In which case, the statement of identity will be indeterminate, but there will be no indeterminacy of identity de re.

Further details in the paper, of course; comments welcome.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'In virtue of' and propositions

Like many metaphysicians, I think the world is structured. Some truths hold true in virtue of others; some things exist in virtue of other things; some truths are made true by things. I think that there’s only one relation here, and it is the in virtue of relation, that holds between true propositions. For A to exist in virtue of B (i.e. for A to be ontologically dependent on B) is for the proposition [A exists] to be true in virtue of the proposition [B exists]; for the proposition P to be made true by A is for P to be true in virtue of the proposition [A exists].

Sometimes I hear the objection that this assumes that propositions are themselves fundamental constituents of reality. This objection is misplaced, for the view does not assume that. I can’t really see why one would think it did, but I’ve heard it enough times that I think it’s worth spelling out why I don’t think it does. If I’m just confused, I’d like to hear why!

Suppose you have an in virtue of chain that terminates in the proposition P. All that is entailed by this is that what P says to be the case is fundamentally the case; but that P exists may well be true in virtue of something else, and so P may itself be a derivative entity, despite its content being a fundamental truth.

Here is a toy example, just to illustrate the consistency. Suppose for every proposition, p, that p exists is true in virtue of the fact that it is possible for someone to entertain the content of p. So P might be true in virtue of Q, which is itself fundamental. But the proposition [Q exists] needn’t be fundamental. On the toy proposal, [Q exists] is true in virtue of [Possibly, someone entertains the content of Q]. Of course, now I’ve invoked another proposition, call it R; so if it is to be a derivative entity I need to invoke a new instance of the in virtue of relation. [R exists] in virtue of [Possibly, someone entertains the content of R]. And now we have another new proposition, so need a new instance of the relation; and so on, and so on. We generate an infinite sequence of in virtue of relations. But this is not, I think, a vicious regress. The success of an instance of the in virtue of relation never depends on the success of the instance of the relation it ‘generates’. P obtains in virtue of Q, and that generates a new instance: [Q exists] in virtue of R. But the success of ‘P obtains in virtue of Q’ doesn’t depend on the success of ‘[Q exists] in virtue of R’, for it doesn’t matter to P’s being grounded in Q whether or not Q is fundamental. That Q is not a fundamental existent is nice, but it’s irrelevant to Q’s ability to be the relata of the in virtue of relation. So the fact that there is an infinite sequence of in virtue of instances is, I think, unworrying.

Now, I don’t particularly recommend that account of what grounds the facts concerning the existence of propositions, but it’s clearly just a placeholder for a better account. So I think taking propositions to be the relata of the in virtue of relation simply has no consequences for whether or not propositions are fundamental constituents of the world.