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Area: Aesthetics

| Thomasson |


Thomasson,# A. (2006). Debates About the Ontology of Art: What Are We Doing Here? Philosophy Compass 1 (3):245–255.

Kw: Art; physical objects; abstract structures; categories

Philosophers have placed some or all works of art in nearly every available ontological category, with some considering them to be physical objects, others abstract structures, imaginary entities, action types or tokens, and so on. How can we decide which among these views to accept? I argue that the rules of use for sortal terms like "painting" and "symphony" establish what ontological sorts of thing we are referring to with those terms, so that we must use a form of conceptual analysis in adjudicating these debates. This has several interesting consequences, including that revisionary answers are suspect, that adequate answers may require broadening our systems of categories, and that certain questions about the ontology of art – including the basic question "What is the ontological status of the work of art?"– are ill-formed and unanswerable.

Thomasson,# A. (2003). Fictional Characters and Literary Practices. British Journal of Aesthetics 43 (2): 138- 157.

Kw: Fictional characters

I argue that the ontological status of fictional characters is determined by the beliefs and practices of those who competently deal with works of literature, and draw out three important consequences of this. First, heavily revisionary theories cannot be considered as ‘discoveries’ about the ‘true nature’ of fictional characters; any acceptable realist theory of fiction must preserve all or most of the common conception of fictional characters. Second, once we note that the existence conditions for fictional characters (established by those beliefs and practices) are extremely minimal, it makes little sense to deny the existence of fictional characters, leaving anti-realist views of fiction unmotivated. Finally, the role of ordinary beliefs and practices in determining facts about the ontology of fictional characters explains why non-revisionary theories of fiction are bound to yield no determinate or precise answer to certain questions about fictional characters, demonstrating the limits of a theory of fiction.


Thomasson,# A. (2003). Speaking of Fictional Characters. Dialectica 57 (2):205–223.

Kw: Fictional characters

The challenge of handling fictional discourse is to find the best way to resolve the apparent inconsistencies in our ways of speaking about fiction. A promising approach is to take at least some such discourse to involve pretense, but does all fictional discourse involve pretense? I will argue that a better, less revisionary, solution is to take internal and fictionalizing discourse to involve pretense, while allowing that in external critical discourse, fictional names are used seriously to refer to fictional characters. I then address two objections to such realist theories of fiction: One, that they can’t adequately account for the truth of singular nonexistence claims involving fictional names, and two, that accepting that there are fictional characters to which we refer is implausible or ontologically profligate.