Op ed

Critical evaluation on fiction and metaphysics by peter van inwangen

Peter Van Inwagen (1977) is John cardinal O’ Hara professor of philosophy at the university of Notre Dame. In his thesis entitled fiction and metaphysics, he reflected immensely that many works of fiction address themselves directly to metaphysical issues. He classified Quine’s contribution into two: ontology and meta-ontology. Concentrating on meta-ontology he alleged that Quine’s meta-ontology may be viewed as comprising of four properties.

Firstly that being is the same as existence. Let us take for instance; to say that horses exist is to say there are horses. However, there are no things that do not exist. Secondly, being is univocal. He stated that existence is closely tied to number. Thus to say that unicorns do not exist is to say something very much like saying that the number of unicorn is zero, that is the number of horses is one or more. Peter Van alleged that the third component of Quine’s meta-ontology is stated with formal logic.  The formal logic is such that there is an x such that x is something. He asserted that symbol; existential quantifier adequately represents single sense of being or existence that figures in our everyday and scientific assertions. He went further to assert that the fourth component of Quine’s meta-ontology gives a general way of approaching the question; to find out what theories to accept. He observed that when one knows what theories to accept, one is therefore in a position to answer the question, what is there? This is because to accept a theory is to accept it as true, and if a theory contains a sentence that begins with a quantifier then that theory is true only if there is at least one number.

On the contrary Platonism states that there exist abstract objects, and again, an object is abstract just in case it is non-spatiotemporal, that is, does not exist in space or time.  It is because abstract objects are wholly non-spatiotemporal, it follows that they are also entirely non-physical and non-mental. In addition, they are unchanging and entirely causally inert — that is, they cannot be involved in cause-and-effect relationships with other objects. All of this might be somewhat perplexing; for with all of these statements about what abstract objects are not, it might be unclear what they are. Three examples of things that are often taken to be abstract are (a) mathematical objects (notably, numbers), (b) properties, and (c) propositions. Consider the sentence “3 is prime”’. Prima facie, this sentence seems to say something about a particular object, namely, the number 3. Just as the sentence “The moon is round”’ says something about the moon, so too ‘3 is prime’ seems to say something about the number 3.  What is the number 3? On this view, 3 is a real and objective thing that, like the moon, exists independently of us and our thinking. Platonists think we have to believe in abstract objects, because there are good reasons for thinking that we have to admit the existence of things like numbers and universals, and  the only tenable view of these things is that they are abstract objects.


Furthermore, Inwangen argued that the fiction unlike the histories and like the lies are products of the imagination; unlike the lies, they are not intended to deceive for when some one tells a fiction, his audience knows that what is being told them is not a history and he knows they know and they know he knows they know, and so on. Consequently he stated that the telling of fictional narratives is almost certainly not a cultural development. It is much more probable that fiction is part of our biology, like language and the ability to recognize individual human faces. Thus he stated that there are fictional involvement that are to history while some are applicable to fiction alone- holistic and analytical story-talk criticism. Finally, Van Inwagen (1977), thinks that fictional objects, or fictional characters, are best thought of as abstract objects.  Let us consider the following sentence:

(F) Peter Rock is a detective.

Now, if this sentence actually appeared as a story, then that token of it would not be true — it would be a bit of fiction. If you were telling a child about these stories, and the child asked, “What does Rock do for a living?”, and you answered by uttering (F), then it seems plausible to suppose that what you have said is true. If it is true, then it seems that its singular term, ‘Peter Rock’, must refer to something. What it refers to, according to the view in question, is an abstract object, in particular, a fictional character. In short, present-day utterances of (F) are true statements about a fictional character. Zalta’s (1983, 1988)  solution is perhaps the clearest version of the general strategy. His idea is that in addition to possessing certain properties, abstract objects also encode properties. The fictional character Peter Rock encodes the properties of being a detective, being male, being English, having arms and legs, and so on. It does not possess any of these properties. It possesses the properties of being abstract, being a fictional character; Rock possesses the property of being a fictional character.

Peter Van Inwangen argued further that only fiction present us with a really good argument for believing in the non-existent. He stated the he will reject an example of a golden mountain because there is nothing g like golden mountain; but he would accept an example fictional character as an example of non-existent. This is because fictional character according to him exists. The ontological status here may be compared with that of a plot, a rhyme scheme, a narrative passage or a recurrent pattern of imagery. Nevertheless, works of fiction need not be entirely imaginary and may include real people, places, and events. Fiction may be written or oral or may be presented as a film or in theater or on radio or television. The ability to create fiction and other artistic works is considered to be a fundamental aspect of human culture, one of the defining characteristics of humanity. However, a character is a participant in the story, and is usually a person, but may be any personal identity, or entity whose existence originates from a fictional work or performance.

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