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  • ‘Folk Stories: What has fiction to do with mental fictionalism?’, Fictionalism in Philosophy, edited by B. Armour-Garb and F. Kroon (Oxford University Press, 2020), 168-186. (Bourne and Caddick Bourne)




Latest Paper on Fictionalism:

Folk Stories: What has fiction to do with mental fictionalism?

By Bourne & Caddick Bourne

Fictionalism is often seen as a way to enjoy the benefits offered by a certain type of representation without being fully committed to the picture of reality that representation offers. What fictionalist positions hope to draw from fiction itself is the idea that we can take a discourse seriously without invoking commitment to what it says. On the surface, fiction is a form of representation well-suited to the metaphysical aims often stated as motivations for fictionalism. But the nature of fictional representation is more contentious than it might first appear, and this has ramifications for fictionalism.


Although our arguments will generalise in places, we focus on mental fictionalism – here understood as the view that we should adopt a fictionalist treatment of folk psychology, combining an endorsement of folk psychological discourse as valuable with a rejection of folk psychological discourse as a guide to the nature of the world. Close attention to the nature of fiction reveals a number of issues which bear on mental fictionalism. After sketching a few of these, we focus in particular on unearthing some difficulties for a figurative fictionalist approach to folk psychology, concentrating on Adam Toon’s recent attempt to understand folk psychology in terms of Kendall Walton’s notion of prop-oriented make-believe. We argue that there are problems with securing, in the case of folk psychology, the relationship between props, content and understanding that prop-oriented make-believe demands. In addition, by considering the relationship between fiction and metaphor, we identify a difficulty for those who might hope that an appeal to metaphor will facilitate withholding commitment from the ontology of folk psychology.


Whilst attention to the nature of fiction creates obstacles for those sympathetic to mental fictionalism, it also suggests opportunities. We use considerations about the nature of fiction itself to sketch the beginnings of an alternative to fictionalism as it is usually conceived. Utilising a distinction between being true in a fiction and being true to a story, we propose a brand of mental ‘storyism’ which departs from mental fictionalism, but may do justice to some fictionalist ambitions. We also consider the so-called ‘fictionalist suicide’ problem, which alleges that mental fictionalism is self-defeating since appeal to folk-psychological concepts is needed in order to explicate the fictionalist’s appeal to fiction. We suggest that attention to the nature of fiction offers a potential new solution to this problem.

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