Fictional Emotion, Belief and Imagination

Dissertation, University of Guelph (Canada) (1984)
Abstract
The upshot of this thesis is that our emotional response to fiction can be explained rationally and, therefore, that Radford's allegation that such responses are puzzling is false. To provide a rational explanation of an emotion proper is to show that there is a suitable belief which constitutes both the reason for and the cause of the emotion. Radford's allegation, that an emotional response to a fictional character is not founded on such a belief and hence occurs without any identifiable reason or cause, is shown to rest on a mistake, namely that one has no reason to respond to a character if one knows or believes the character to be unreal. For one can still form a reasonable attitude towards a character one knows to be fictional, and that attitude will then give rise to the reason for, and the cause of, an emotional response to the character. ;Two main proposals along such lines are discussed and criticized. The first proposal is that either a make-belief in the actuality of the character, or a second-order belief about the character, constitutes the causal-cum-conceptual condition of the response. The second proposal is that this condition is not provided by belief, but by the imagination. Both proposals are shown to be inadequate on the ground that neither make-belief nor second-order belief nor the imagination can rightly be construed as a causal condition of these emotions. ;A new proposal is put forward to demonstrate that we can identify a causally potent source of emotional response to fiction. It is an evaluative belief, genuinely formed by us about the nature or fate of a fictional person, just as we normally form an evaluative belief about an actual counterpart of the fictional person. But the intentional content to which this belief is applied in the fictional context is provided by the imagination. In the absence of an existential belief about the fictional person, the imagination here plays an alternative conceptual role. ;Thus, the conclusion is that the right sort of combination of imagination and evaluative belief results in a causally dynamic thought-complex, which provides both necessary and sufficient causal-cum-conceptual conditions for an emotional response to fiction.
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