Thoughts on the 'paradox' of fiction

Kathleen Stock
University of Sussex
This paper concerns the familiar topic of whether we can have genuinely emotional responses such as pity and fear to characters and situations we believe to be fictional1. As is well known, Kendall Walton responds in the negative (Walton (1978); (1990): 195-204 and Chapter 7; (1997)). That is, he is an ‘irrealist’ about emotional responses to fiction (the term is Gaut’s (2003): 15), arguing that such responses should be construed as quasiemotions (Walton (1990): 245), of which their possessor imagines that they are genuine emotions. This is not to deny that an experience in response to a fiction may have a phenomenology very like a given emotion, but to insist that, nonetheless, such responses are not real instances of the emotions which they resemble (Walton (1997)). So, in his most famous example, Charles, who experiences fear-like emotion in relation to a film which depicts the approach of evil slime, does not, despite appearances, experience genuine fear towards the slime, but only quasi-fear (Walton (1990): 195-204)2. Walton’s view presupposes the following view about the nature of emotion3.
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