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Summary We routinely appear to quantify over and refer to fictionals characters. For example, it appears to be true that there are characters in some 19th-century novels who are presented with a greater wealth of physical detail than is any character in any 18th-century novel. Such reference and quantification appears to commit us to an ontology of fictional characters. But what are these things? A clue and another argument for realism is that it is true that Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes. So fictional characters look to be artifacts, but how can this be? Realists about fictional characters try to provide a clear account of the nature of these characters. The realist, however, faces a problem since it is also true that Sherlock Holmes does not exist. So there seem to be sentences that pull us to realism and sentences that push us toward irrealism. 
Key works Parsons 1980 provides an account of fictional characters as eternal Meinongian non-existent objects. Construed as such, fictional characters have clear identity conditions. Such a treatment is found by many to be implausible in the extreme. A more popular view treats fictional characters as created. Kripke 2013 provides the intuitive case for an ontology of fictional characters as abstract artifacts. Thomasson 1999 takes up these themes and develops them in more detail. Such realism faces two serious threats, both of which have been pushed by Anthony Everett. First, how can the realist account for true fictional negative existentials (Everett 2007), second can they provide a coherent metaphysics (Everett 2005)?
Introductions Friend 2007. For a book-length treatment see Sainsbury 2009.
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  1. Fred Adams, Gary Fuller & Robert Stecker (1997). The Semantics of Fictional Names. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 78 (2):128–148.
    In this paper we defend a direct reference theory of names. We maintain that the meaning of a name is its bearer. In the case of vacuous names, there is no bearer and they have no meaning. We develop a unified theory of names such that one theory applies to names whether they occur within or outside fiction. Hence, we apply our theory to sentences containing names within fiction, sentences about fiction or sentences making comparisons across fictions. We then defend (...)
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  2. Kent Bach (1985/1986). Failed Reference and Feigned Reference. Grazer Philosophische Studien 25:359-374.
    Nothing can be said about a nonexistent object, but something can be said about the act of (unsuccessfully) attempting to refer to one or, as in fiction, of pretending to refer to one. Unsuccessful reference, whether by expressions or by speakers, can be explained straightforwardly within the context of the theory of speech acts and communication. As for fiction, there is nothing special semantically, as to either meaning or reference, about its language. And fictional discourse is just a distinctive use (...)
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  3. Jay E. Bachrach (1991). Fictional Objects in Literature and Mental Representations. British Journal of Aesthetics 31 (2):134-139.
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  4. H. Gene Blocker (1974). The Truth About Fictional Entities. Philosophical Quarterly 24 (94):27-36.
    The usual strawsonian account of referring won't do for fictional entities. The problem is that we still don't have a sufficiently clear notion of ordinary referring, And the root of this problem is that referring is still perceived in terms of a paradigm relation of a description to an existing thing. But that relation is preceded by the more fundamental relation of thought to an object of thought, Whether real or imaginary. The conclusion reached is that fictional reference is an (...)
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  5. Paul Bloom (2006). What Does Batman Think About SpongeBob? Children's Understanding of the Fantasy/Fantasy Distinction. Cognition 101 (1):9-18.
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  6. Stuart Brock (2002). Fictionalism About Fictional Characters. Noûs 36 (1):1–21.
    Despite protestations to the contrary, philosophers have always been renowned for espousing theories that do violence to common-sense opinion. In the last twenty years or so there has been a growing number of philosophers keen to follow in this tradition. According to these philosophers, if a story of pure fic-tion tells us that an individual exists, then there really is such an individual. According to these realists about fictional characters, ‘Scarlett O’Hara,’ ‘Char-lie Brown,’ ‘Batman,’ ‘Superman,’ ‘Tweedledum’ and ‘Tweedledee’ are not (...)
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  7. Curtis Brown (1992). Charles Crittenden, Unreality: The Metaphysics of Fictional Objects. [REVIEW] Philosophy in Review 12 (3):177-179.
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  8. Tim Button (2012). Spotty Scope and Our Relation to Fictions. Noûs 46 (2):243-58.
    Whatever the attractions of Tolkein's world, irrealists about fictions do not believe literally that Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit. Instead, irrealists believe that, according to The Lord of the Rings {Bilbo is a hobbit}. But when irrealists want to say something like “I am taller than Bilbo”, there is nowhere good for them to insert the operator “according to The Lord of the Rings”. This is an instance of the operator problem. In this paper, I outline and criticise Sainsbury's (2006) (...)
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  9. Ross P. Cameron (2013). A Fictional Realist. In Christy Mag Uidhir (ed.), Art and Abstract Objects. Oxford University Press. 179.
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  10. B. Caplan & C. Muller (forthcoming). Against a Defense of Fictional Realism. Philosophical Quarterly.
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  11. Ben Caplan (2004). Creatures of Fiction, Myth, and Imagination. American Philosophical Quarterly 41 (4):331-337.
    In the nineteenth century, astronomers thought that a planet between Mercury and the Sun was causing perturbations in the orbit of Mercury, and they introduced ‘Vulcan’ as a name for such a planet. But they were wrong: there was, and is, no intra-Mercurial planet. Still, these astronomers went around saying things like (2) Vulcan is a planet between Mercury and the Sun. Some philosophers think that, when nineteenth-century astronomers were theorizing about an intra-Mercurial planet, they created a hypothetical planet.
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  12. W. R. Carter (1980). Do Creatures of Fiction Exist? Philosophical Studies 38 (2):205 - 215.
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  13. Roberto Casati & Achille C. Varzi (2000). All the Things You Are. In Gabriele Usberti (ed.), Modi dell’oggettività. Bompiani. 77–85.
    An imaginary dialogue between Andrea Bonomi and Gonzalo Pirobutirro (the main character of Gadda’s novel La cognizione del dolore) aiming to challenge Bonomi’s tenet that a work of fiction defines a domain of objects which is closed with respect to the actual world.
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  14. Arkadiusz Chrudzimski (2005). Brentano Husserl Und Ingarden Über Die Intentionalen Gegenstände. In , Existence, Culture, and Persons: The Ontology of Roman Ingarden. Ontos.
    In der Geschichte der Philosophie finden wir viele Intentionalitätstheorien, die spezielle Gegenstände zur Erklärung des Intentionalitätsphänomens einführen. Solche Theorien wurden in erster Linie von Philosophen eingeführt, die durch Franz Brentano beeinflusst waren. Gegenstände, um die es hier geht, werden üblicherweise intentionale Gegenstände genannt. Eine Theorie der intentionalen Gegenstände, die vom ontologischen Standpunkt aus betrachtet besonders detailliert ausgearbeitet ist, hat Roman Ingarden formuliert. Auch Ingardens Theorie ist daher Gegenstand einer oft geäußerten Kritik. Man behauptet, dass alles, was intentionale Gegenstände leisten, auch (...)
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  15. Ralph W. Clark (1980). Fictional Entities: Talking About Them and Having Feelings About Them. Philosophical Studies 38 (4):341 - 349.
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  16. David Conter (1991). Fictional Names and Narrating Characters. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (3):319 – 328.
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  17. Gabriele Contessa (2012). Sweet Nothings. Analysis 72 (2):354-366.
    This paper is part of a book symposium on Jody Azzouni's Talking about Nothing: Numbers, Hallucinations, and Fictions.
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  18. Gabriele Contessa (2009). Who is Afraid of Imaginary Objects? In Nicholas Griffin & Dale Jacquette (eds.), Russell Vs. Meinong: The Legacy of "On Denoting". Routledge.
    People often use expressions such as ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Pegasus’ that appear to refer to imaginary objects. In this paper, I consider the main attempts to account for apparent reference to imaginary objects available in the literature and argue that all fall short of being fully satisfactory. In particular, I consider the problems of two main options to maintain that imaginary objects are real and reference to them is genuine reference: possibilist and abstractist account. According to the former, imaginary objects (...)
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  19. Charles Crittenden (1993). Unreality: The Metaphysics of Fictional Objects. Philosophical Review 102 (4):608-611.
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  20. Gregory Currie (1997). On Being Fictional. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 55 (4):425-427.
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  21. Gregory Currie (1990). The Nature of Fiction. Cambridge University Press.
    This important new book provides a theory about the nature of fiction, and about the relation between the author, the reader, and the fictional text.
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  22. Gregory Currie (1988). Fictional Names. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 66 (4):471 – 488.
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  23. Gregory Currle (2003). Characters and Contingency. Dialectica 57 (2):137–148.
    One way creatures of fiction seem to differ from real things is in their essential properties. While you and I might not have done many of the things we did do, Anna Karenina could not, surely, have been other than a lover of Vronsky. Is that right? Not straightforwardly: while it is true that “Necessarily, someone who was not a lover of Vronsky would not be Anna” it is also true that “Someone who was necessarily a lover of Vronsky would (...)
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  24. Francis W. Dauer (1995). The Nature of Fictional Characters and the Referential Fallacy. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53 (1):31-38.
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  25. Anthony Everett (2014). Sainsbury on Thinking About Fictional Things. Acta Analytica 29 (2):181-194.
    In a number of places Mark Sainsbury has recently developed an attractive irrealist account of fiction and intentionality, on which there are no fictional objects or exotic intentional entities. A central component of his account is an ambitious argument, which aims to establish that the truth of intensional transitives such as “I think about Holmes” and “Alexander feared Zeus” does not require the existence of fictional or intentional objects. It would be good news indeed for the irrealist if Sainsbury’s argument (...)
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  26. Anthony Everett (2013). The Nonexistent. Oup Oxford.
    Anthony Everett gives a philosophical defence of the common-sense view that there are no such things as fictional people, places, and things. He argues that our talk and thought about such fictional objects takes place within the scope of a pretense, and that we gain little but lose much by accepting fictional realism.
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  27. Anthony Everett (2007). Pretense, Existence, and Fictional Objects. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):56–80.
    There has recently been considerable interest in accounts of fiction which treat fictional characters as abstract objects. In this paper I argue against this view. More precisely I argue that such accounts are unable to accommodate our intuitions that fictional negative existentials such as “Raskolnikov doesn’t exist” are true. I offer a general argument to this effect and then consider, but reject, some of the accounts of fictional negative existentials offered by abstract object theorists. I then note that some of (...)
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  28. Anthony Everett (2005). Against Fictional Realism. Journal of Philosophy 102 (12):624 - 649.
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  29. William Flesch (2010). What We Think About When We Think About Fictional Characters. Symploke 18 (1):327-332.
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  30. Matthieu Fontaine & Shahid Rahman (2014). Towards a Semantics for the Artifactual Theory of Fiction and Beyond. Synthese 191 (3):499-516.
    In her book Fiction and Metaphysics (1999) Amie Thomasson, influenced by the work of Roman Ingarden, develops a phenomenological approach to fictional entities in order to explain how non-fictional entities can be referred to intrafictionally and transfictionally, for example in the context of literary interpretation. As our starting point we take Thomasson’s realist theory of literary fictional objects, according to which such objects actually exist, albeit as abstract and artifactual entities. Thomasson’s approach relies heavily on the notion of ontological dependence, (...)
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  31. Cheryl Foster & Arto Haapala (2001). Living with Anna Karenina. On the Ontology of Literary Characters. Nordic Journal of Aesthetics 13 (23).
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  32. Stacie Friend (2011). The Great Beetle Debate: A Study in Imagining with Names. Philosophical Studies 153 (2):183-211.
    Statements about fictional characters, such as “Gregor Samsa has been changed into a beetle,” pose the problem of how we can say something true (or false) using empty names. I propose an original solution to this problem that construes such utterances as reports of the “prescriptions to imagine” generated by works of fiction. In particular, I argue that we should construe these utterances as specifying, not what we are supposed to imagine—the propositional object of the imagining—but how we are supposed (...)
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  33. Stacie Friend (2007). Fictional Characters. Philosophy Compass 2 (2):141–156.
    If there are no fictional characters, how do we explain thought and discourse apparently about them? If there are, what are they like? A growing number of philosophers claim that fictional characters are abstract objects akin to novels or plots. They argue that postulating characters provides the most straightforward explanation of our literary practices as well as a uniform account of discourse and thought about fiction. Anti-realists counter that postulation is neither necessary nor straightforward, and that the invocation of pretense (...)
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  34. Stavroula Glezakos (forthcoming). Truth and Reference in Fiction. In Gillian Russell & Delia Graff Fara (eds.), Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Routledge.
    Fiction is often characterized by way of a contrast with truth, as, for example, in the familiar couplet “Truth is always strange/ Stranger than fiction" (Byron 1824). And yet, those who would maintain that “we will always learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology” (Chomsky 1988: 159) hold that some truth is best encountered via fiction. The scrupulous novelist points out that her work depicts no actual person, either living or dead; nonetheless, we (...)
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  35. Jeffrey Goodman (2013). Creatures of Fiction, Objects of Myth. Analysis 74 (1):ant090.
    Many who think that some abstracta are artefacts are fictional creationists, asserting that fictional characters are brought about by our activities. Kripke (1973), Salmon (1998, 2002), and Braun (2005) further embrace mythical creationism, claiming that certain entities that figure in false theories, such as phlogiston or Vulcan, are likewise abstracta produced by our intentional activities. I here argue that one may not reasonably take the metaphysical route travelled by the mythical creationist. Even if one holds that fictional characters are artefact (...)
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  36. Jeffrey Goodman (2005). Defending Author-Essentialism. Philosophy and Literature 29 (1):200-208.
    Creationism is the view that fictional individuals such as Sherlock Holmes are contingently existing abstracta that come about due to the intentional activities of authors. Author-essentialism is the stronger thesis that the author responsible for bringing a fictional individual into existence at a time is essential to the existence of that individual. Takashi Yagisawa has recently attacked this view on the following grounds: author-essentialists rely on an ontological parallelism between fictional individuals and whole works of fiction, but this parallelism fails (...)
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  37. Jeffrey Goodman (2004). A Defense of Creationism in Fiction. Grazer Philosophische Studien 67 (1):131-155.
    Creationism is the conjunction of the following theses: (i) fictional individuals (e.g. Sherlock Holmes) actually exist; (ii) fictional names (e.g., 'Holmes') are at least sometimes genuinely referential; (iii) fictional individuals are the creations of the authors who first wrote (or spoke, etc.) about them. CA Creationism is the conjunction of (i) - (iii) and the following thesis: (iv) fictional individuals are contingently existing abstracta; they are non-concrete artifacts of our world and various other possible worlds. TakashiYagisawa has recently provided a (...)
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  38. Jeffrey Goodman (2003). Where is Sherlock Holmes? Southern Journal of Philosophy 41 (2):183-197.
    Most philosophers would say that fictional characters lack spatiotemporal location simply because such entities do not exist. However, even prominent believers in ficta hold that they must lack location. I here focus on the views of one such believer, Amie Thomasson, and her Artifactual Theory. The fundamentals of her ontology seem correct, but I argue that the view implies that ficta do have location. I provide a diagnosis of an argument Thomasson gives for the contrary, and then suggest a way (...)
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  39. Jacek Gurczyński (2011). Deflacyjne (redukcyjne) koncepcje przedmiotów fikcyjnych. Przegląd i analiza. Filozofia Nauki 1.
    The objective of this paper is to discuss current reductive theories of the non-existent objects, specifically - contemporary deflationary theories of the fictional objects. By such theories I mean those denying that fictional objects have any ontological status at all. Theories, which claim that fictional proper names denote some sort of objects but deny that these names denote individual objects, are treated as the reductive theories of non-existent as well. In the discourse I present the following ideas: 1) Russell's theory (...)
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  40. Richard Hanley (2003). Much Ado About Nothing: Critical Realism Examined. Philosophical Studies 115 (2):123 - 147.
    Critical realism is the view that fictional characters arecontingent, actual, abstract individuals, ontologically on a par with such things as plots and rhyme schemes, andquantified over in statements such as A character inHamlet is a prince. A strong contender for thecorrect account of fictional characters, critical realismnevertheless has difficulty satisfying all that we intuitivelyrequire of such an account.
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  41. Reina Hayaki (2009). Fictional Characters as Abstract Objects: Some Questions. American Philosophical Quarterly 46 (2):141 - 149.
    Sir Arthur Conan doyle wrote fifty-six short stories and four novels about Sherlock Holmes, collectively known as the Canon. The following are all true facts about the Canon: It is true according to the Canon that Sherlock Holmes is a detective. It is true according to the Canon that Queen Victoria hired a private consulting detective, gave him an emerald tiepin, and offered him a knighthood which he refused. The Canon is about Sherlock Holmes. The Canon is about a brilliant (...)
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  42. Michael Hicks (2010). A Note on Pretense and Co-Reference. Philosophical Studies 149 (3):395 - 400.
    Anna Pautz has recently argued that the pretense theory of thought about fiction cannot explain how two people can count as thinking about the same fictional character. This is based on conflating pretending and the serious thought that can be based on pretend. With this distinction in place, her objections are groundless.
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  43. Alec Hyslop (1986). Emotions and Fictional Characters. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 64 (3):289 – 297.
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  44. Andrew Kania (2005). Against the Ubiquity of Fictional Narrators. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63 (1):47–54.
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  45. Daniel Z. Korman (2014). The Vagueness Argument Against Abstract Artifacts. Philosophical Studies 167 (1):57-71.
  46. Daniel Asher Krasner (2001). Reference and Fictional Names. Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles
    Philosophical accounts of the semantics of fiction have tended to be problematic in one of two ways: either they have denied that items used in fictional discourse have their plain meaning, introducing complications into otherwise satisfactory accounts of semantics, or they have posited special kinds of entities, introducing complications into otherwise satisfactory accounts of ontology. Accounts that tried to avoid these problems by positing mere possibilia as fictional entities were thought to be hopeless inasmuch as it was thought impossible to (...)
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  47. Saul A. Kripke (2013). Reference and Existence. The John Locke Lectures. Oxford University Press.
    Reference and Existence, Saul Kripke's John Locke Lectures for 1973, can be read as a sequel to his classic Naming and Necessity. It confronts important issues left open in that work -- among them, the semantics of proper names and natural kind terms as they occur in fiction and in myth; negative existential statements; the ontology of fiction and myth (whether it is true that fictional characters like Hamlet, or mythical kinds like bandersnatches, might have existed). In treating these questions, (...)
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  48. Saul A. Kripke (2011). Vacuous Names and Fictional Entities. In , Philosophical Troubles. Collected Papers Vol I. Oxford University Press.
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  49. Peter Lamarque (1984). Bits and Pieces of Fiction. British Journal of Aesthetics 24 (1):53-58.
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  50. Roger Lamb (1990). Currie on Fictional Names. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):113 – 115.
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