Truth and Inference in Fiction
Phillips (John F.)
Source: Philosophical Studies, Vol. 94, No. 3 (Jun., 1999), pp. 273-293
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. Anyone who has read Catch-22 is probably aware of the fact that Yossarian wants to live forever or die in the attempt. Moreover, anyone who has read the novel would probably agree that the statement 'Yossarian wants to live forever or die in the attempt' is true if understood as 'In the novel Catch-22, Yossarian wants to live forever or die in the attempt'. If someone disagreed with this statement, we would simply point to the relevant passage in the novel where Yossarian's comical ambition is explicitly mentioned and that would, seemingly, be the end of the matter.
  2. There is, however, a philosophical puzzle which becomes apparent when our discourse about fiction is subjected to closer scrutiny; for there is a certain class of statements about fiction which seem to be true, despite the fact that there are no passages in the text in which any of the statements in question are clearly expressed. For example, consider the statements 'Yossarian and Dunbar are friends' or 'Milo Minderbinder is obsessed with making money'. While neither statement is, so far as I know, explicitly set forth in the text, those of us who have read the novel would, I take it, agree that both statements are true. The puzzle, then, is, if we agree that these statements and others like them are true, in spite of the fact that they are not explicitly stated in the text, what is it that makes them true?
  3. Perhaps the most straightforward and intuitive response to this puzzle is to claim that 'Yossarian and Dunbar are friends' is true because it is reasonable to infer, upon the basis of what is explicitly stated in the novel, that (in the novel) Yossarian and Dunbar are friends. This proposal has a great deal of merit, and it is a first step toward the solution of the more general problem of specifying truth-conditions for statements about fiction.
  4. In this paper, I shall consider two well-known accounts of how it is that truth-values are assigned to statements about fiction, the accounts of David Lewis and Gregory Currie. I shall argue that neither of these accounts is satisfactory and I shall propose, in their stead, my own account. After presenting my proposal, I shall endeavor to show that my theory correctly handles all of the problem cases for the theories of David Lewis and Gregory Currie and, hence, is preferable to those theories.

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