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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 1998 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. Peter Alward, Reading, Writing, and Speech Act Theory: Prolegomena to Any Future Logic of Fiction.
    meaning of a proper name is simply its referent.[1] This thesis, however, brings with it a whole host of problems. One particularly thorny difficulty is that of negative existentials, sentences of the form ‘N does not exist’ (where ‘N’ is a proper name). Intuitively, some such sentences are true, but the direct reference theory seems to imply that they must be either false or meaningless. After all, if the meaning of a name is just its referent, then a sentence such (...)
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  3. Kent Bach (1985). 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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  4. Jay E. Bachrach (1991). Fictional Objects in Literature and Mental Representations. British Journal of Aesthetics 31 (2):134-139.
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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. Craig Bourne & Emily Caddick Bourne (2016). Time in Fiction. Oxford University Press UK.
    What can we learn about the world from engaging with fictional time-series--stories involving time travellers, recurring and rewinding time, and foreknowledge of the future? Do they show us radical alternative possibilities concerning the nature of time, or do they show that even the impossible can be represented in fiction? Neither, so this book argues. Defending the view that a fiction represents a single possible world, the authors show how apparent representations of radically different time-series can be explained in terms of (...)
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  7. Emily Caddick Bourne (forthcoming). Fictional Objects, Edited by Stuart Brock and Anthony Everett. Australasian Journal of Philosophy:1-4.
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  8. S. Brock & A. Everett (eds.) (2015). Fictional Objects. Oxford University Press.
    Eleven original essays discuss a range of puzzling philosophical questions about fictional characters, and more generally about fictional objects. For example, they ask questions like the following: Do they really exist? What would fictional objects be like if they existed? Do they exist eternally? Are they created? Who by? When and how? Can they be destroyed? If so, how? Are they abstract or concrete? Are they actual? Are they complete objects? Are they possible objects? How many fictional objects are there? (...)
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  9. Stuart Brock (2016). Fictionalism About Fictional Characters Revisited. Res Philosophica 2 (93):1-27.
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  10. Stuart Brock (2010). The Creationist Fiction: The Case Against Creationism About Fictional Characters. Philosophical Review 119 (3):337-364.
    This essay explains why creationism about fictional characters is an abject failure. Creationism about fictional characters is the view that fictional objects are created by the authors of the novels in which they first appear. This essay shows that, when the details of creationism are filled in, the hypothesis becomes far more puzzling than the linguistic data it is used to explain. No matter how the creationist identifies where, when and how fictional objects are created, the proposal conflicts with other (...)
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  11. 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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  12. Stuart Ross Brock (2002). Creatures of Fiction. Dissertation, Princeton University
    My starting point is the controversial assumption that fictional characters---like Batman, Emma Bovary and Wuthering Heights---do not exist. It is my contention that there simply are no such things. My aim is to show how we might learn to live without them, how we can make sense of talk purportedly about them, and how we can have emotional responses that seem to be directed towards them.
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  13. Curtis Brown (1992). Charles Crittenden, Unreality: The Metaphysics of Fictional Objects. [REVIEW] Philosophy in Review 12 (3):177-179.
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  14. Jeff Buechner (2011). Fictional Entities and Augmented Reality: A Metaphysical Impossibility Result. Journal of Evolution and Technology 22 (1):53-72.
    The transhumanism project will gain momentum with advances in technology, in basic science and in philosophy, as well as in bioethics. However, there are minefields that jeopardize this progress – one such minefield is a fundamental problem in pure philosophy: fictional entities and how we refer to the nonexistent. In the absence of solutions to the problems that arise in this area of philosophy, progress in the technology necessary for augmented reality will be considerably impeded. I will argue there are (...)
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  15. 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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  16. Jean Andre Cadieux (1976). The Ontological Status of Fictional Entities. Dissertation, University of Minnesota
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  17. Ross P. Cameron (2013). A Fictional Realist. In Christy Mag Uidhir (ed.), Art and Abstract Objects. Oxford University Press. pp. 179.
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  18. B. Caplan & C. Muller (2014). Against a Defense of Fictional Realism. Philosophical Quarterly 64 (255):211-224.
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  19. 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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  20. David Carrier (1979). Art Wothout its Objects? British Journal of Aesthetics 19 (1):53-62.
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  21. W. R. Carter (1980). Do Creatures of Fiction Exist? Philosophical Studies 38 (2):205 - 215.
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  22. Roberto Casati & Achille C. Varzi (2000). All the Things You Are. In Gabriele Usberti (ed.), Modi dell’oggettività. Bompiani. pp. 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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  23. 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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  24. Ralph W. Clark (1980). Fictional Entities: Talking About Them and Having Feelings About Them. Philosophical Studies 38 (4):341 - 349.
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  25. Tom Cochrane (2014). Narrative and Character Formation. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 72 (3):303-315.
    I defend the claim that fictional narratives provide cognitive benefits to readers in virtue of helping them to understand character. Fictions allow readers to rehearse the skill of selecting and organizing into narratives those episodes of a life that reflect traits or values. Two further benefits follow: first, fictional narratives provide character models that we can apply to real-life individuals (including ourselves), and second, fictional narratives help readers to reflect on the value priorities that constitute character. I defend the plausibility (...)
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  26. David Conter (1991). Fictional Names and Narrating Characters. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (3):319 – 328.
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  27. 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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  28. 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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  29. Wesley D. Cray (forthcoming). Abstract Generationism: A Response to Friedell. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
    David Friedell has recently raised questions about the relation between authorial intentions and the creation of abstract artifacts, such as fictional characters. Here, I discuss how, by distinguishing different ways in which authors might generate fictional characters, we can make progress toward answering such questions.
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  30. Charles Crittenden (1993). Unreality: The Metaphysics of Fictional Objects. Philosophical Review 102 (4):608-611.
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  31. Charles Crittenden (1973). Thinking About Non-Being. Inquiry 16 (1-4):290 – 312.
    There are genuine references to non?existent objects, as can be seen through elucidating reference in common language and applying the criteria enumerated to expressions used in writing and speaking about fiction. The concept of a fictitious entity is simply accepted in the adoption of the ?language?game? of fiction and has no undesirable ontological consequences. To think otherwise is to fail to attend to the conceptual status of such talk. Accounts of fictional discourse by Russell, Ryle, and Chisholm are found objectionable. (...)
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  32. Charles Crittenden (1966). Fictional Existence. American Philosophical Quarterly 3 (4):317 - 321.
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  33. Gregory Currie (1997). On Being Fictional. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 55 (4):425-427.
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  34. 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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  35. Gregory Currie (1988). Fictional Names. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 66 (4):471 – 488.
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  36. 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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  37. E. M. Dadlez & C. M. Haramia (2016). Fictional Objects, Future Objectives: Why Existence Matters Less Than You Think. Philosophy and Literature 39 (1):1-15.
    Beatrice. Jane Tennison. Elizabeth Bennett. Arya Stark. Katniss Everdeen. None of them is real. All of them appear not only to engage our interest but also to move us. Some of them might even be thought to affect us further—to inspire us to do things, or at least to regard things in a different light. The set of problems typically grouped under the designation “paradox of fiction” raises questions about an apparent contradiction, about our responding emotionally to entities and events (...)
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  38. 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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  39. Genevieve Diana Demme-Woodward (1982). Fictitious Entities. Dissertation, Temple University
    Were fictitious entities logically incomplete , non-existent, and in some cases logically impossible , then classical logic would not be adequate for dealing with fictitious entities. This is because classical logi assumes its entities to be complete and existent and because classical logic allows the derivation of anything and everything from a contradiction. ;Taking fictional characters as paradigmatic fictitious entities and believing fictitious entities to be as described above, some philosophers have proposed that alternatives to classical logic are required for (...)
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  40. Karl Egerton (2015). Existence: Essays in Ontology. By Peter van Inwagen. Cambridge University Press, 2014, Pp. 261, £18.99 ISBN: 9781107625266. [REVIEW] Philosophy 90 (3):519-524.
  41. Lisa Elliott (1979). Three Paradoxes of Fiction: A Study in the Logic of Fictional Language. Dissertation, Columbia University
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  42. 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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  43. Anthony Everett (2013). The Nonexistent. Oxford University Press.
    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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  44. 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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  45. Anthony Everett (2005). Against Fictional Realism. Journal of Philosophy 102 (12):624 - 649.
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  46. James Feibleman (1941). The Logical Value of the Objects of Art. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 1 (2/3):70-85.
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  47. Neil Feit (2009). Naming and Nonexistence. Southern Journal of Philosophy 47 (3):239-262.
    I defend a cluster of views about names from fiction and myth. The views are based on two claims: first, proper names refer directly totheir bearers; and second, names from fiction and myth are genuinely empty, they simply do not refer. I argue that when such names are used in direct discourse, utterances containing them have truth values but do not express propositions. I also argue that it is a mistake to think that if an utterance of, for example, “Vulcan (...)
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  48. William Flesch (2010). What We Think About When We Think About Fictional Characters. Symploke 18 (1):327-332.
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  49. 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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  50. 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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