Creatures of fiction, objects of myth

Download Creatures of fiction, objects of myth

Post on 20-Dec-2016




1 download

Embed Size (px)


<ul><li><p>Creatures of fiction, objects of myth</p><p>JEFFREY GOODMAN</p><p>Many who think that there exist contingent abstracta are fictional creation-ists, asserting that Sherlock Holmes, for example is an abstractum dependenton Doyles authorial activities. Some prominent fictional creationists, notablyBraun (2005), Kripke (1973) and Salmon (1998, 2002), dont stop at fic-tional creationism, but further embrace mythical creationism. They hold thatsome objects (mythical objects) that figure in false theories (or myths) arelikewise abstracta of our production. Paradigm examples here would bephlogiston, the substance once alleged to account for rusting or burning,and Vulcan, the planet proposed by Le Verrier to be the cause of perturb-ations in the orbit of Mercury. I shall here offer an argument for thinking thatone may not reasonably take the route travelled by Braun, Kripke andSalmon. Even if one holds that fictional characters are artefacts, one oughtnot further hold that mythical objects are, too.1</p><p>One argument for realism regarding fictional characters has by nowbecome familiar to many, and the same style of reasoning has been takento further establish the existence of mythical objects.2 Sentences such as</p><p>C: Sherlock Holmes is a character thought up by Conan Doyle.A: Sherlock Holmes appears in the story A Scandal in Bohemia.</p><p>seem straightforwardly true; unlike Holmes smokes a pipe, they are not sen-tences concerning what is ascribed to Holmes in the stories. Now, if the theor-etically most attractive way to provide the semantics of sentences like C and A isto take them at face value, as many contend, then Holmes should be consideredan extant object which exemplifies the properties expressed by the predicatesappearing in those sentences. And a line of reasoning that parallels the one justgiven may be given for mythical objects. All we need to do is simply substitute</p><p>P: Phlogiston is a hypothetical substance proposed by some 18th Centurychemists to explain rusting and burning.</p><p>and</p><p>V: Vulcan is a hypothetical planet proposed by Le Verrier to explainperturbations in the orbit of Mercury.</p><p>Analysis Vol 74 | Number 1 | January 2014 | pp. 3540 doi:10.1093/analys/ant090 The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Analysis Trust.All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:</p><p>1 I dont wish to weigh in here on any realism/anti-realism debate regarding abstracta, nordo I wish to weigh in on any debate regarding the semantics of fictional names or mythical</p><p>names. It is worth noting here, though, that Braun (2005) and Salmon (2002), both</p><p>Vulcan realists, disagree about the semantics of Vulcan.</p><p>2 Many have defended versions of this argument; the locus classicus, however, is VanInwagen (1977).</p><p>cREATURES OF FICTION, OBJECTS OF MYTH | 35</p><p> at Aston U</p><p>niversity on January 15, 2014</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloaded from </p></li><li><p>for C and A above. But since Holmes is no flesh and blood crime-solver to be</p><p>found in 19th Century London, and since no inventory of physical substancesincludes either phlogiston or Vulcan, a successful argument for these entities</p><p>plausibly amounts to an argument for abstracta.3</p><p>Nonetheless, even if realism regarding abstract fictional characters and</p><p>mythical objects is warranted, this does not establish fictional creationism or</p><p>mythical creationism. But it is natural to think that Holmes came about be-cause Doyle thought him up, and Vulcan came about because Le Verrierthought it up. Were there no Doyle or Le Verrier, there would be no</p><p>Holmes or Vulcan.4 Of course, the intentions of Doyle and Le Verrier differedin ways that led one to produce a work of fiction and one to produce a scien-</p><p>tific theory. Crucially, the former involved intentions to not to lie but also not</p><p>to tell the truth, while the latter set of intentions crucially involved a desire todescribe reality. And while both Doyle and Le Verrier wound up telling stories</p><p>(in a sense) that were, in toto, false, that was consistent with Doyles aims, notLe Verriers. Nonetheless, mythical creationists say that each had intentionsand performed activities that were sufficient to bring about an abstract object;</p><p>Le Verrier inadvertently brought about Vulcan given his particular sort ofintentions and activities, while Doyle in some sense aimed to create Holmes.5</p><p>3 There is much controversy regarding the success of this style of reasoning. One might</p><p>reject the idea that there are no suitable paraphrases that uncover the real (lack of) onto-logical commitments, as do Sainsbury (2010) and Walton (1990). Or one might reject the</p><p>idea our activities are capable of bringing about abstracta, as do Yagisawa (2001) and</p><p>Brock (2010). This is not the place, however, to defend this sort of argument. For presentpurposes, think of the thesis being defended here as a conditional: If there are compelling</p><p>reasons to be fictional creationists, similar reasons that seemingly lead us to accept myth-</p><p>ical creationism cannot ultimately be good reasons.</p><p>4 These intuitions may, of course, be off the mark, and some other realist theory that entails</p><p>that fictional characters are necessarily existing Platonic abstracta, or Meinongian non-existents to be discovered (or stipulated or cut from whole cloth or what-have-you),</p><p>may be correct. See, e.g. Zalta (1983) and Parsons (1980), respectively.</p><p>5 Here is what Braun has to say in defence of the analogy between fictional creationism and</p><p>mythical creationism:</p><p>The activities that occur during mistaken theorizing, such as Le Verriers, are importantly</p><p>similar to those that occur during storytelling. In both, names are used and predicative</p><p>sentences containing them are formulated. Reasoning and other mental processes occur.Texts that are seemingly susceptible to evaluation for truth are produced. Thus, if story-</p><p>tellers activities create fictional characters, then mistaken theorizers activities create ab-</p><p>stract objects of a similar sort. So I grant that Le Verriers mistaken theorizing creates an</p><p>abstract artefact (2005: 615)</p><p>And here is Salmons line:</p><p>Mythical objects are of the same metaphysical/ontological category as fictional</p><p>characters . . .Myths and fictions are both made up. The principal difference betweenmythical and fictional objects is that the myth is believed while the fiction is only</p><p>36 | jEFFREY gOODMAN</p><p> at Aston U</p><p>niversity on January 15, 2014</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloaded from </p></li><li><p>Against this backdrop, here now is the argument contra mythical</p><p>creationism.6</p><p>(1) If Vulcan is a created abstractum (like Holmes), then Vulcan is created</p><p>by Le Verrier in every possible world where Le Verrier performs rele-</p><p>vantly similar activities to those he actually performed.(2) There is a possible world where Le Verrier performs relevantly similar</p><p>activities to those he actually performed and yet fails to create Vulcan.</p><p>Therefore, its not true that Vulcan is a created abstractum (like Holmes).7</p><p>Here is the support for premise 1. Imagine any possible world that is verymuch like ours, and in particular, imagine those that contain Le Verrier and</p><p>Doyle situated in the same sorts of historical and social contexts in which</p><p>they were actually situated. And imagine that Doyle performs all of the in-tentional, authorial activities in that world that he performed here, and im-</p><p>agine that Le Verrier performs all of the intentional, scientific theorizing in</p><p>that world that he performed here. If Doyles authorial activities succeed increating Holmes here, then those same activities (in the same historical/social)</p><p>context will lead to Holmes creation in the alternate world as well. And</p><p>given her analogy with fictional creationism, it seems as though the mythicalcreationist must say the same thing regarding the creation of Vulcan in such a</p><p>possible world.But now imagine further, that among the relevant set of possible worlds,</p><p>there are those that include the following two additional objects: (i) a flesh</p><p>and blood, supremely clever crime solver (there) called Holmes, one who isfond of cocaine and pipe-smoking and deerstalker caps, one having a war-</p><p>veteran doctor for a friend named Watson and an arch-nemesis named</p><p>Moriarty, etc.; and (ii) a planet (there) called Vulcan by Earthlings (there),one that is located between the Sun and Mercury and is responsible for</p><p>perturbations in the orbit of the latter (etc.). Call any such world an X world.Now, surely we should think that Holmes the created abstractum exists</p><p>at every X world (if he exists in the actual world). And no X worlder meetingthe description in (i) above let us call such an alien individual Shlomes isidentical to Holmes. After all, if fictional creationism is true, then Holmes is</p><p>make-believe. This difference does nothing to obliterate the reality of either fictional or</p><p>mythical objects. (2002: 121, n28)</p><p>6 In formulating this line of reasoning, I owe a huge debt to Phillips (2001). While his</p><p>project is ultimately different from mine he aims to show that the direct reference the-orist may not plausibly identify the referent of Vulcan with a created abstractum much</p><p>of what he says inspired the argument I present here against mythical creationism.</p><p>7 Of course, there is nothing special about the appeal to Vulcan here (just as there was</p><p>nothing special about the choice of Vulcan in the argument for realism above). Thus, if theargument is sound, we have a license to reject mythical creationism in its full generality.</p><p>cREATURES OF FICTION, OBJECTS OF MYTH | 37</p><p> at Aston U</p><p>niversity on January 15, 2014</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloaded from </p></li><li><p>essentially a created abstractum. Furthermore, given Doyles intentions inevery X world to be authoring a fiction, it would be ridiculous to think thatany of Doyles X-world stories are about Shlomes (regardless of what anyconfused X-world Earthlings may think). Nor is it reasonable to think thatsomehow Doyles activities in X worlds fail to create Holmes because the veryexistence of Shlomes would serve to thwart the creative process. (We may evensuppose that all X-world Doyles are ignorant of Shlomes existence.)But it would likewise be incorrect to think that any X world contains an</p><p>abstractum there created by Le Verrier that mythical creationists believe toexist here in our world and here call Vulcan. What X worlds do contain is aplanet meeting the description in (ii) above let us call that alien planetShmulcan. And given Le Verriers intentions in every X world to describereality, what we should think is that he indeed hit the mark in those worlds.In the X worlds, Le Verriers scientific hypothesis regarding an intra-Mercurial planet is true; he there (merely) succeeds in describing Shmulcan.He is rightly credited there with the discovery of a real (i.e. concrete, spatio-temporal) planet, not the creation of a mythical (abstract) planet. So, premise2 is true.Now, a mythical creationist may deny premise two on the basis that even</p><p>though X world Le Verriers articulate true scientific theories, true theories aswell as false ones bring about abstracta; X world Le Verriers create Vulcanon their way toward discovering Shmulcan. But this seems to be a desperatesort of fix. Created abstracta are posited by artefactualists inter alia, to solvepuzzles concerning apparently empty names and to provide a straightforwardsemantics for sentences like C, A, P, and V above. But true theories dontcrucially rely on names that are apparently empty, and an appeal to abstractaas referents for names occurring in true scientific theories, when those the-ories are ostensibly concerned with ordinary concreta, would be utterly offthe mark. Using a reasonable principle of parsimony, then, we should rejectthe idea that true theories create abstracta. Such abstracta are simply notneeded in the case of true theories in the way that some fictional creationistsclaim they are needed in the case of C and A, or in the way that somemythical creationists claim they are needed in the case of P and V.8</p><p>8 On this point, Braun says the following:</p><p>[D]oes true theorizing also create abstract objects that are similar to fictional characters? I</p><p>suspect it does. (I am not sure, because I do not know enough about the supervenience</p><p>bases and existence conditions of fictional, mythical, and imaginary objects to say any-</p><p>thing definite.) (2005: 627, n34)</p><p>For reasons concerning parsimony given above, I suspect it does not.</p><p>Phillips (2001) argues that Salmon (1998), at any rate, is forced to accept that truetheorizing creates objects of myth just as false theorizing. But if Phillips is right, then it</p><p>follows that Salmon is forced to accept a bloated ontology one filled with explanatorily</p><p>superfluous abstracta. So Salmon would still be left without a good reason to reject prem-ise 2, and further reason to be wary of mythical creationism.</p><p>38 | jEFFREY gOODMAN</p><p> at Aston U</p><p>niversity on January 15, 2014</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloaded from </p></li><li><p>A more interesting reply would instead deny premise one.9 In our world,where there is no intra-Mercurial planet, Le Verrier creates Vulcan, and in XWorlds where Shmulcan exists, Leverrier fails to create the relevant abstrac-tum, and heres why. It is more than the authors intentions and social/historical context that counts in the abstractum-creation process; the mind-independent physical world must have its say as well. Whether or not onesucceeds in creating a mythological object depends on whether the worldobliges by providing the relevant entity (in which case, no creation occurs)or fails to oblige (in which case, creation occurs).This reply, however, forces a very unhappy decision on the mythical cre-</p><p>ationist. On the one hand, suppose she maintains that the analogy betweenthe creative process for both fictional characters and mythical objects is ex-tremely tight. If she then further claims that it is the very absence of an intra-Mercurial planet that is facilitating the creation of Vulcan in our world, thenshe should amend her fictional creationism by claiming that it is the veryabsence of a flesh and blood, supremely clever crime solver called Holmeswho is fond of cocaine and pipe-smoking, etc. that is facilitating the creationof Holmes in our world. But no fictional creationist should say that. Theworld providing such an entity matters not at all as to whether Doylesactivities succeed in creating Holmes.Suppose on the other hand that the mythical creationist decides to empha-</p><p>size the relevant dissimilarities between creation-by-fiction-telling andcreation-by-false-theorizing. That is, suppose she distinguishes between oneform of creation that is dependent solely on authorial intentions and histor-ical/social contexts, and one form that is allegedly dependent on these factorsplus the non-cooperation of the world to provide the relevant entity. Thismove simply serves to shine a spotlight on what is so theoretically unattractiveabout the latter sort of process: it requires that the creation of mythi...</p></li></ul>