Concerning the Paradox of Fiction

A short musing on the paradox of fiction and the condition of man.

Paradox of fiction:

a) We often have emotions for fictional character and situations know to be purely fictional.
b) emotions for objects logically presuppose beliefs in the existence of those objects.
c) We do not harbor any beliefs in the existence of objects which we know to be fictional

Separate these three premises seem probable to be true. Yet together they contradict each other. Such is the paradox.

What if our emotional reaction to characters of fiction is the same sort of reaction of empathy that God has to his creation. Surely fiction is created work, and Man made in the image of God places value on creation. Is it then unreasonable to suppose that our empathy for purely fictional created beings and places is a shadow of the way God empathizes with his own creation? It seems that both creations are limited in many extents, and both creations have creators that empathize with them.

The next notable idea is the objection to any argument that tries to claim that we are feeling true emotions about fictional characters. The objection is one that asks if we think characters are real, or have true emotions towards them, then why are we not moved to action as would be true of when we know the characters to be real. I think the answer could very well lie in Jesus Christ (They all do don't they? haha). What I mean is that in man's fallen condition, rarely is a man moved to action unless self-gain is perceived. Or, for someone they believe is worthy of their life, a man may die. But for something so unworthy as fiction no man would dare to die. Yet does this not sound like what Christ has done for us? I am not stating in any way that we should try to die for fictional characters, but simply that the fallen shadow of man sees in part, and in so doing can not reason why we empathize with our creations, yet do not act on their behalf. For me, I sense some eerie connection. Or maybe it's just late with too much philosophy to read. Hrmph.

Consulted -

Emotion in Response to Art : A Survey of the Terrain - Jerrold Levinson
The Paradox of Caring : Fiction and the Philosophy of the Mind - Gregory Currie

Romans 5:7-9 (English Standard Version)

7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8but ">(A) God shows his love for us in that">(B) while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore,(C) we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from(D) the wrath of God.

1 Response to "Concerning the Paradox of Fiction"

  • David Says:

    Deep stuff. For me, the key point here is that man is made in the image of God. God creates worlds. Man creates stories. It is the limitations of man's nature that a class of what he creates is regarded as "fiction." God also can choose to use "fiction" -- for example, Nathan's story to David convicting him of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12.1-15), or the parables in the Gospels. The difference is that God is not limited to creating fictional worlds. For man, if he wishes to create a world, it must necessarily be a fictional world. The actions of man in the "real world," although also motivated by world-making, rarely result in actual "worlds."

    As for emotions, I think it may be making a false distinction to draw a line between emotions we feel for "real" things versus emotions we feel for "fictional" things. Emotions are emotions and there is nothing in their constitution that necessarily entitle us to make that distinction. As a matter of fact this was Plato's concern about art: he takes emotional response to art (=fiction) as a given, and goes on to ask about the consequences of that emotion. In other worlds, given the fact that people will respond emotionally to a poet's fictional world, the poet is making an "imitation" that might be deleterious to social well being.

    Beyond this, I have to think more about your three premises in combination with one another.


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