PHIL41540 Philosophy of Fiction

Academic Year 2020/2021

Fictional characters are awkward creatures. They are described as being girls, detectives or cats in their ‘home’ fictions, but who of us has ever met Hermione Granger, Sherlock Holmes or the Cheshire Cat? No one, of course: they are, after all, not real. They are fictional entities, objects of imagination, created by imaginative authors, they are nothing like us. Still worse for them, it’s not even obvious that fictional characters are anything at all. Given that no one has ever come across them, given that we can neither see nor touch them, maybe fictional characters are nothing more than shadows cast by our linguistic projections onto the world, a world that is really free of such objects.

Metaphysicians with an interest in fictional entities try to make sense of the ways in which we talk and think about fictional worlds and their inhabitants. While some of the linguistic data suggest that we pretheoretically do not believe in fictional characters, some seem to imply quite the opposite. Thus compare:

(1) Some fictional characters are more famous than others.
(2) Hermione Granger doesn’t exist.
(3) Hermione Granger is a student.

All of these claims seem true, but it’s not difficult to see that there is a question about how they can all be true. How can Hermione be a student if she doesn’t exist? And if she doesn’t exist, how can she be famous? If there are no fictional characters, how can we compare them to one another and say some of them are more famous than others?
A natural thought at this point is that maybe there are fictional characters, but they don't exist! We will learn more about this view in the module, but already notice that this view is less natural than it might appear at first. If someone told you that many of Dickens’ characters were underdeveloped, it seems perfectly reasonable to inform them that only a few such characters exist and that most of Dickens’ characters are very well developed indeed.
Thus, some philosophers argue that fictional characters do exist. But what exactly are they? And where are they? And how are they made? We will discuss the views of some of these "realists" in the module.
Other philosophers find the idea that Hermione and Holmes exist utterly absurd. But how can they reconcile the truth of claims such as (1) and (3) with their "sparse ontology"? We will also discuss the views of some of these "anti-realists".

Students who wish to prepare for the module should read one or more of the following introductory articles:
Stacie Friend, 2007, ‘Fictional Characters’, Philosophy Compass 2.
Fiora Salis, 2013, ‘Fictional Entities’, Online Companion to Problems in Analytic Philosophy.
Sarah Sawyer, 2012, ‘Empty names’, in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Language.,Routledge, 153­‐162.
Amie L. Thomasson, 2009, ‘Fictional Entities’, in A Companion to Metaphysics, Second edition, ed. Jaegwon Kim, Ernest Sosa and Gary Rosenkrantz, Blackwell, 10-18.

Show/hide contentOpenClose All

Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

This module introduces to and deepens students' understanding of analytic metaphysics, and especially analytic ontology, through the debate about fictional characters. While the module focuses on the metaphysics of fictional characters, the methodological strategies employed are the same across various areas of metaphysics. Thus, this module will be beneficial to any student who is interested in analytic metaphysics.

The module will allow students to improve and demonstrate core skills in philosophy, e.g. understanding complex texts, critically engaging with philosophical articles, evaluating arguments and theories, and developing own positions in relation to the issues that are discussed in the module. Students will read classic and contemporary texts in analytic metaphysics, and will acquire knowledge of the main theories in the debate about fictional characters.

Indicative Module Content:

Keywords: analytic metaphysics, analytic ontology, fictional realism, fictional anti-realism, Meinongianism, fictional creationism, Quine, fictionalism, paraphrase

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Each week there will be a required reading and an extensive list of suggested further reading. Students are expected to do the required reading, to take notes while reading, and to discuss their questions and ideas regarding the text in the seminar with other students and the lecturer. As a seminar, the module will be discussion led, lecturing will be minimal.

To successfully complete the module, participants are required to give one short presentation, participate in the discussions, submit their own annotated reading list (continuous element), and write an essay at the end of the semester.

Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: Essay at the end of the semester Week 11 n/a Graded No


Presentation: Input-Presentation Unspecified n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Continuous assessment Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Participation in the seminar Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Not yet recorded.