Morality, fiction, and possibility

Philosophers' Imprint 4 (3):1-27 (2004)
Authors have a lot of leeway with regard to what they can make true in their story. In general, if the author says that p is true in the fiction we’re reading, we believe that p is true in that fiction. And if we’re playing along with the fictional game, we imagine that, along with everything else in the story, p is true. But there are exceptions to these general principles. Many authors, most notably Kendall Walton and Tamar Szabó Gendler, have discussed apparent counterexamples when p is “morally deviant”. Many other statements that are conceptually impossible also seem to be counterexamples. In this paper I do four things. I survey the range of counterexamples, or at least putative counterexamples, to the principles. Then I look to explanations of the counterexamples. I argue, following Gendler, that the explanation cannot simply be that morally deviant claims are impossible. I argue that the distinctive attitudes we have towards moral propositions cannot explain the counterexamples, since some of the examples don’t involve moral concepts. And I put forward a proposed explanation that turns on the role of ‘higher-level concepts’, concepts that if they are satisfied are satisfied in virtue of more fundamental facts about the world, in fiction, and in imagination.
Keywords Aesthetics, Imagination, Resistance, Fictionality, Dissertation
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Amy Kind (2011). The Puzzle of Imaginative Desire. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (3):421-439.
Shen-yi Liao (2013). Moral Persuasion and the Diversity of Fictions. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 94 (3):269-289.
Peter Kung (2010). Imagining as a Guide to Possibility. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 81 (3):620-663.

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