Creatures of Fiction
Van Inwagen (Peter)
Source: Van Inwagen - Ontology, Identity and Modality, Part I: Ontology, Chapter 3
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. Some philosophers say there are things that do not exist. In saying this, they mean to assert more than the obvious truth that, on some occasions, sentences like "Mr. Pickwick does not exist" can be used as vehicles of true assertions: They mean to assert that there are, there really are, certain objects that have, among their other attributes (such as jollity and rotundity), the attribute of non-existence. Let us call such philosophers Meinongians and their doctrine Meinongianism. One argument for Meinongianism proceeds by examples drawn from fiction, or so the Meinongian would say. A typical anti-Meinongian, however, would probably want to describe a typical application of this method as follows: "My Meinongian friend uttered 'Mr. Pickwick does not exist' assertively. Then he described what he had done in uttering these words as his having 'given an example of a non-existent object'". Our typical anti-Meinongian has an obvious reason for so describing the Meinongian's argument. For he is, of course, going to go on to say something like: "But his description of what he did was incorrect; for even if the sentence he uttered was or expressed a truth, its subject-term, 'Mr. Pickwick,' does not denote anything. Therefore, he did not, in uttering this sentence, succeed in giving an example of anything, much less of something non-existent."
  2. So the Meinongian thinks that "Mr. Pickwick" is a name for something and that what it names is non-existent. The typical anti-Meinongian thinks that "Mr. Pickwick" is not a name for anything. It will be noticed that their positions are contraries, not contradictories. It would also be at least formally possible to maintain that "Mr. Pickwick" is a name for something and that what it names exists.
  3. In this paper, I wish to defend just this thesis. More generally, I shall defend the thesis that there are things I shall call "creatures of fiction," and that every single one of them exists. I shall show that this thesis has certain advantages over both the Meinongian and what I have called the "typical anti-Meinongian" theories of the ontology of fiction. Its advantage over the Meinongian theory is this: Meinongianism either involves a bit of technical terminology that has never been given a satisfactory explanation, or else necessitates an abandonment of what are commonly called "the laws of logic." And the theory I shall present does not have this drawback.


Originally in American Philosophical Quarterly 14.4: 299-308 (1977)

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Footnote 1:

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