This post on Lewis's analysis of truth in fiction, by Jonathan at Fake Barn Country, is interesting. I think it's possible, though, that both Lewis and Jonathan might be doing more work than they need to do.

There is a straightforward analysis of truth in fiction. On this analysis, when we say that a proposition is true in some fiction, we mean that there is some world (i.e., the fictional, non-actual world) in which that proposition is true. For instance, to use Jonathan's example: It is true in the world of Harry Potter that there are wizards in England. The straightforward way to understand this is to say that (1) the world of Harry Potter is a possible world, and (2) in that world, there is a place called England where wizards live.

The problem of fictional truth "gets off the ground" (i.e. becomes interesting and complicated) only when this straightforward analysis is rejected. Lewis and Jonathan are in agreement, apparently, that it needs to be rejected. Jonathan says:

[A]s Lewis recognizes, worlds specify too much. Worlds are complete; every proposition is true or false1 in each possible world. But fictions are not complete in this way. It is true in the fiction that Harry puts on shoes before flying away. But there is no fictional truth about which shoe he puts on first. Since there is no possible world in which Harry puts on shoes, but neither puts his left shoe on first, or puts his right shoe on first, or puts them on simultaneously, truth in the fiction cannot be truth in some possible world.

In possible worlds, all propositions are either true or false. But, if Lewis and Jonathan are right, not all propositions are either true or false in fictional worlds such as the world of Harry Potter. Thus the world of Harry Potter is not a possible world. In that case, (1) above cannot be part of a coherent analysis of fictional truth. Since (1) is part of the "straightforward" analysis of fictional truth, we cannot accept the straightforward analysis of fictional truth.

I like the straightforward analysis and would like to salvage it if possible. I see two ways to do that: (a) One could claim that not all possible worlds are "complete," and therefore that the incompleteness of the world of Harry Potter does not show that it is not a possible world. (b) One could argue that the world of Harry Potter *is *"complete," and therefore that even if all possible worlds are complete, the world of Harry Potter might still be a possible world. Way (a) is problematic; there seems to be something decidedly impossible about an incomplete world. But way (b), I think, has a chance. Certainly, we are not *told *which shoe Harry put on first; but it does not follow from this alone that there is no fact of the matter about which shoe he *did *put on first. Why not say that he *must *have put one or the other on first, even if we will never know which?

Hmm, I really would rather say that there is no fact of the matter. This seems to be one of our basic intuitions about fiction that any good analysis should be expected to capture and explain.

But couldn't you just expand the analysis to include sets of nearby possible worlds, much as Lewis does? The problem Jonathan identifies is to do with saying the fiction is "told as known fact" in these worlds - you could continue to leave that bit out. But then I guess we must ask, how are we to identify the appropriate possible world? It seems to me that if you reject the 'told as known fact' identifier, some replacement is required...

Posted by: Richard | 02/13/2005 at 06:37 PM

To expand on my previous comment... you write:

"There is a straightforward analysis of truth in fiction. On this analysis, when we say that a proposition is true in some fiction, we mean that there is some world (i.e., the fictional, non-actual world) in which that proposition is true."

But of course it is not enough to have a proposition true in any old world (every possible fact will be true in *some* possible world). Rather, it must be true in *the specific world of the fiction*. So there must be some identity conditions which specify just *which* world this is.

Posted by: Richard | 02/13/2005 at 08:10 PM

Richard,

A couple of points.

1. I have the opposite intuition about whether there's a fact of the matter regarding which shoe Harry put on first. My thoughts right now aren't completely clear on why I have that intuition. I'm going to sleep on it and devote a future post (which I'll probably write tomorrow) to giving reasons in support of that intuition.

2. I think expanding the analysis to include sets of nearby possible worlds is the wrong way to go. Here's why I think that. Consider two claims:

a. Fictions take place in just one world. There's just one "Harry Potter's world," for instance.

b. Propositions are true in Harry Potter's world in virtue of states of affairs which obtain in that world.

I think (a) and (b) are true. But suppose we expand our analysis of fictional truth to include sets of possible worlds, and say (for instance) that "There are wizards in England" is true in Harry Potter's world in virtue of states of affairs which obtain in each member of some set of nearby possible worlds. Then (b) would be false (I think).

Finally,

3. I agree completely with the point you make in your last comment.

I'm still feeling a bit unclear about all this. I'm going to re-read Jonathan's post and think about all this a bit more. Maybe my views will change by tomorrow. :)

Posted by: david | 02/13/2005 at 08:30 PM

Hi David, this is interesting. I've never really taken the "straightforward theory" seriously -- maybe I should. I'll try to think up some arguments to support the intuition you reject that Richard, Lewis, and I share.

One initial point, though: like Richard says, my objections to Lewis's view seem to apply to yours as well.

Posted by: Jonathan | 02/13/2005 at 10:43 PM

The notion that there is only one possible world that accurately represents the Harry Potter stories seems counterintuitive. You concede that possible worlds are maximal and closed under entailment, so no proposition is left without a truth-value.

How can it be that the books only pick out one of these worlds? If you take the books to express a set of propositions, it is completely underdetermined which world is being discussed. The author herself cannot even decide between the worlds!

It seems to me that she is telling a partial story of all the possible worlds which are consistent with the propositions expressed in the book. That is, the books refer to the worlds in which Harry puts on his left shoe first, his right shoe first, ties double knots, single knots, etc. If we take the novels to express sets of propositions, then they are telling a partial story of all the worlds in which those propositions are true.

Posted by: Chris | 02/14/2005 at 08:37 AM

Oh, hey, I looked over your post again, and something caught my eye. You close by saying:

Why not say that he must have put one or the other on first, even if we will never know which?

On my view, I do grant that it is true in the fiction that Harry put on his left shoe first or he put on his right shoe first. I'm just denying both that it is true in the fiction that he put his right shoe on first, and that it is true in the fiction that he put his left shoe on first. So your final claim is compatible with the view you don't like.

Posted by: Jonathan | 02/15/2005 at 12:15 AM

I accept a variant of the straightforward interpretation of the truth in fiction theory. Yes, every wff is either true or false in a possible world. However, in any possible physical world, examples of which are the actual world and the world of Harry Potter, every wff that is not a truth of logic-mathematics that is an element of that world (i.e., is true in that world) states the probability of an event in that world. "Harry puts on his left shoe first" does not, to be precise and pedantic, represent a proposition and cannot be true in a possible physical world, though "The event Harry putting on his left shoe first has a probability of 99.999%" may be true in a possible physical world as may "The event Harry putting on his left shoe first has a probability 50%." This is connected with the fact that in Kolmogorov's axiomatization of the probability calculus, it is sets, not propositions, that have probability and that physical events are, according to an analysis I have developed (building on an idea of Russell's but employing non-well-founded set theory) sets. In common situations it is common and unproblematic to confuse events with propositions just as in common situations it is unproblematic to confuse weight, a force, with mass; nevertheless, just as Newton showed weight and mass to be not strictly identical even in situations where it is convenient to confuse them (the mass being multiplied by one g), Kolmogorov showed events, things which have probabilty, and propositions not to be strictly identical even in situations where it is convenient to confuse them (the probability of the event being very high). If you look in a standard math book you will find probability being ascribed to things represented by nouns or noun clauses, e.g., "throwing a heads", not things represented by sentences, e.g., "A heads will be thrown."

Posted by: Daniel Whiting | 02/23/2005 at 04:39 PM

If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we would

all be millionaires.

-- Abigail Van Buren

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

http://blurty.com/users/juliolewisub

Posted by: MaveApposse | 05/09/2008 at 03:08 AM