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Truth in Fiction



When we engage with a work of fiction we gain knowledge about what is fictionally true in that work. Our grasp of what is true in a fiction is central to our engagement with representational works of art, and to our assessments of their merits. Of course, it is sometimes difficult to determine what is fictional – it is a good question whether the main character of American Psycho is genuinely psychotic or merely delusional, for instance. (And even in this case, our ignorance itself is crucial to how we engage with the story and assess its qualities.) But in the vast majority of cases, we have no difficulty distinguishing what is fictionally true from what is not. Every attentive reader of Bleak House knows that it is fictional that Esther is Lady Dedlock’s daughter, but not fictional that Ada is the daughter of John Jarndyce. Moreover, we do not think that our judgements about what is fictional are based on guesswork. We have a folk theory of fictional truth, in the sense that we have a relatively stable framework upon which we rely when we engage with fiction, and we face the challenge of characterizing that theory systematically.