Lamarque and Olsen on Literature and Truth

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Abstract

In Fiction, Truth and Literature, Lamarque and Olsen argue that if a critic claims or attempts to prove that the outlook of a work of literature is true or false, he is not engaging in literary or aesthetic appreciation. This paper argues against this position by adducing cases where literary critics discuss the truth or falsity of a work’s view, when their opinions are obviously relevant to the work’s aesthetic assessment. The paper considers in detail the way factual errors damage a work’s aesthetic standing, and shows that Lamarque and Olsen’s alternative account of the role of propositional truths in literature only looks plausible because it considers a restricted range of examples. Finally, it considers the role intention, date and genre play in discussions of the aesthetic damage done by literal falsehood.

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