Fiction and the weave of life * by John Gibson

Analysis 69 (3):594-596 (2009)
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The cognitivist/non-cognitivist debate about the nature and value of literary fiction has witnessed a lot of spilled ink amongst philosophers over the past decade. Gibson characterizes this debate as a conflict between two apparently incompatible intuitions: the ‘humanist’ intuition that works of literary fiction have some sort of cognitive value in telling us about the world, and the ‘sceptical’ anti-humanist intuition that such works, and their proper appreciation, are not essentially concerned with the notions of truth and knowledge. The vast majority of recent writers on this issue have defended various versions of cognitivism, but the novelty of Gibson's cognitivist – or as he calls it ‘humanist’ – position consists in attempting to reconcile the two sides of the debate.Gibson thus takes seriously various sceptical arguments, primarily semantic and epistemological, to the effect that works of fiction qua fiction do not or cannot make reference to or represent the ‘real’ world and insofar as they do refer to it, they provide no evidence in themselves for forming justified beliefs about their claims. These arguments, Gibson holds, place a necessary ‘textual constraint’ on any plausible humanism, …



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