David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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British Journal of Aesthetics 40 (2):209-224 (2000)
Colin Radford must weary of defending his thesis that the emotional reactions we have towards fictional characters, events, and states of affairs are irrational.1 Yet, for all the discussion, the issue has not, to my mind, been properly settled—or at least not settled in the manner I should prefer—and so this paper attempts once more to debunk Radford’s defiance of common sense. For some, the question of whether our emotional responses to fiction are rational does not arise, for they are inclined to doubt that we have them at all.2 Emotions, on this view, are fundamentally linked to belief states, as in the following thesis concerning the emotion of fear: 1) We fear for ourselves only if we believe ourselves to be in danger; we fear for others only if we believe they actually exist and are in danger. When we typically engage with fiction we do not ‘suspend our disbelief’, in the sense of coming to believe that the fiction is non-fiction. No matter how engrossed I become in a Dracula movie, I do not begin to believe that I am seeing actual vampires. 2) When we watch a horror movie, we do not believe ourselves, or anyone actual, to be in danger. And so these theorists, endorsing (1) and (2), are obliged to deny the intuitive (3): 3) We are sometimes frightened when watching a horror movie. These three propositions are a version of what is sometimes called ‘The Paradox of Fiction’. For my money, since the denial of (2) is foolish, and the denial of (3) deeply counterintuitive, it is (1)—being a substantive philosophical thesis—that is most likely the culprit. Radford agrees, yet maintains that there is some intimate connection between belief and emotion. For him, the dependence is not the existential one stated in (1), but a normative one: we do not rationally feel fear unless we believe ourselves (or someone actual) to be in danger.3 This revision of the connection allows the construction of a quite different inconsistent triad: 4) We are not rationally frightened unless we believe someone actual to be in danger..
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