The Ghost is the Thing: Can Fiction Reveal Audience Belief?

Midwest Studies in Philosophy 34 (1):219-239 (2010)

Aaron Smuts
Rhode Island College
Can fictions sometimes reveal important information about what beliefs audience members hold? I argue that a case can be made that emotional responses to some horror fictions can reveal that audiences harbor beliefs in the supernatural, beliefs that audience members might otherwise deny holding. To clarify the terms of the discussion, I begin with an overview of two leading theories of belief: the representational and dispositional accounts. I explore the role of belief in the production of emotional responses by posing a hard question that none of the leading theories answers directly: Why are some fictional scenarios and events so much more effective than others? I argue that the answer has to do with belief, that is, the beliefs about the world that audiences bring to fictions. After laying the groundwork, I argue that cultural differences in audience responses to some horror fictions might be best explained by what supernatural beliefs they hold. After developing the case, I offer several reasons to be skeptical of this conclusion.
Keywords horror  paradox of fiction  belief  ghosts
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DOI 10.1111/j.1475-4975.2010.00201.x
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