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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. Francesco Berto (2011). Modal Meinongianism and Fiction: The Best of Three Worlds. Philosophical Studies 152 (3):313-35.
    We outline a neo-Meinongian framework labeled as Modal Meinongian Metaphysics (MMM) to account for the ontology and semantics of fictional discourse. Several competing accounts of fictional objects are originated by the fact that our talking of them mirrors incoherent intuitions: mainstream theories of fiction privilege some such intuitions, but are forced to account for others via complicated paraphrases of the relevant sentences. An ideal theory should resort to as few paraphrases as possible. In Sect. 1, we make this explicit via (...)
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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. Tim Button (2012). Spotty Scope and Our Relation to Fictions. Noûs 46 (2):1--16.
    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. 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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  10. W. R. Carter (1980). Do Creatures of Fiction Exist? Philosophical Studies 38 (2):205 - 215.
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  11. 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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  12. Ralph W. Clark (1980). Fictional Entities: Talking About Them and Having Feelings About Them. Philosophical Studies 38 (4):341 - 349.
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  13. David Conter (1991). Fictional Names and Narrating Characters. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (3):319 – 328.
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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. Gregory Currie (1997). On Being Fictional. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 55 (4):425-427.
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  17. 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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  18. Gregory Currie (1988). Fictional Names. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 66 (4):471 – 488.
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  19. Gregory Currle (2003). Characters and Contingency. Dialectica 57 (2):137–148.
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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. Anthony Everett (2005). Against Fictional Realism. Journal of Philosophy 102 (12):624 - 649.
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  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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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  26. 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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  27. 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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  28. 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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  29. Dan Haybron (1999). Evil Characters. American Philosophical Quarterly 36 (2):131 - 148.
    In this paper I examine the psychological traits that can play a constitutive role in having an evil character, using a recent affect-based account by Colin McGinn as my starting point. I distinguish several such traits and defend the importance of both affect and action-based approaches. I then argue that someone who possesses these characteristics to the greatest possible extent—the purely evil individual—can actually be less depraved than one whose character is not so thoroughly penetrated by such traits. To illustrate (...)
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  30. 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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  31. Alec Hyslop (1986). Emotions and Fictional Characters. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 64 (3):289 – 297.
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  32. Andrew Kania (2005). Against the Ubiquity of Fictional Narrators. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63 (1):47–54.
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  33. Daniel Z. Korman (2014). The Vagueness Argument Against Abstract Artifacts. Philosophical Studies 167 (1):57-71.
  34. 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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  35. Saul A. Kripke (2011). Vacuous Names and Fictional Entities. In , Philosophical Troubles. Collected Papers Vol I. Oxford University Press.
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  36. Peter Lamarque (1984). Bits and Pieces of Fiction. British Journal of Aesthetics 24 (1):53-58.
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  37. Roger Lamb (1990). Currie on Fictional Names. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):113 – 115.
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  38. Paisley Livingston & Andrea Sauchelli (2011). Philosophical Perspectives on Fictional Characters. New Literary History 42 (2):337-360.
  39. Peter Ludlow (2006). From Sherlock and Buffy to Klingon and Norrathian Platinum Pieces: Pretense, Contextalism, and the Myth of Fiction. Philosophical Issues 16 (1):162–183.
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  40. Luke Manning (2014). Real Representation of Fictional Objects. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 72 (1):13-24.
    Assuming there are fictional objects, what sorts of properties do they have? Intuitively, most of their properties involve being represented—appearing in works of fiction, being depicted as clever, being portrayed by actors, being admired or feared, and so on. But several philosophers, including Saul Kripke, Peter van Inwagen, Kendall Walton, and Amie Thomasson, argue that even if there are fictional objects, they are not really represented in some or all of these cases. I reconstruct four kinds of arguments for this (...)
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  41. Terence Parsons (1980). Nonexistent Objects. Yale University Press.
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  42. Terence Parsons (1975). A Meinongian Analysis of Fictional Objects. Grazer Philosophische Studien 1:73-86.
    This paper explores the view that there are such things as (nonexistent) fictional objects, and that we refer to such objects when we say things like "Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective", or "Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes". A theory of such objects is developed as a special application of a Meinongian Ontology.
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  43. Alan Paskow (2004). The Paradoxes of Art: A Phenomenological Investigation. Cambridge University Press.
    In this study, Alan Paskow first asks why fictional characters, such as Hamlet and Anna Karenina, matter to us and how they emotionally affect us. He then applies these questions to painting, demonstrating that certain paintings beckon us to view their contents as real. What we visualise in paintings, he argues, is not simply in our heads but in our world. No one would assert that the paintings themselves are in our heads; nor would anyone deny that they are in (...)
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  44. Anna Bjurman Pautz (2008). Fictional Coreference as a Problem for the Pretense Theory. Philosophical Studies 141 (2):147 - 156.
    There seems to be a perfectly ordinary sense in which different speakers can use an empty name to talk about the same thing. Call this fictional coreference. It is a constraint on an adequate theory of empty names that it provide a satisfactory account of fictional coreference. The main claim of this paper is that the pretense theory of empty names does not respect this constraint.
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  45. D. E. B. Pollard (1976). On Talk ‘About’ Characters. British Journal of Aesthetics 16 (4):367-369.
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  46. Stefano Predelli (2002). 'Holmes'and Holmes—a Millian Analysis of Names From Fiction. Dialectica 56 (3):261–279.
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  47. Colin Radford (2000). Neuroscience and Anna; a Reply to Glenn Hartz. Philosophy 75 (3):437-440.
    Glen Hartz argues, that neuroscience reveals that persons moved or frightened by fictional characters believe that they are real, so such behaviour is not irrational. But these beliefs, if they exist, are not rational and, in any case inconsistent with our conscious rational beliefs that fictional characters are not real. So his argument fails to establish that we are not irrational or incoherent when moved or frightened by such characters. It powerfully reinforces the contrary view.
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  48. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (1976). A Literary Postscript: Characters, Persons, Selves, Individuals. In , The Identities of Persons. University of California Press. 301--323.
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  49. R. M. Sainsbury (2009). Fiction and Fictionalism. Routledge.
    Introduction -- What is fiction? -- Realism about fictional objects -- Fictional objects are nonexistents -- Worlds and truth : fictional worlds, possible worlds, and impossible worlds -- Fictional entities are abstract artifacts -- Irrealism : fiction and intentionality -- Some fictionalists -- Fictionalism about possible worlds -- Moral fictionalism -- Retrospect.
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  50. Fiora Salis (2013). Fictional Names and the Problem of Intersubjective Identification. Dialectica 67 (3):283-301.
    The problem of intersubjective identification arises from the difficulties of explaining how our thoughts and discourse about fictional characters can be directed towards the same (or different) characters given the assumption that there are no fictional entities. In this paper I aim to offer a solution in terms of participation in a practice of thinking and talking about the same thing, which is inspired by Sainsbury's name-using practices. I will critically discuss a similar idea that was put forward by Friend (...)
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