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A New Look at Fictional Reference

  • Graham D. Martin (a1)


In Chapters 6 and 7 of Language, Truth and Poetry I attempted to solve the ancient problem of fictional reference by claiming that a fictional construct (such as ‘Pickwick’ or ‘centaur’) ‘points’ or refers to certain features of reality in rather the same way as an abstraction like ‘gravitation’ or ‘cruelty’ does. I now believe that this theory of mine is unsatisfactory; and I should like to propose a new solution to the problem.



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1 Nelson Goodman, ‘On Some Differences About Meaning’, Analysis 13 (1953). 90.

2 J. O. Urmson, ‘Fiction’, American Philosophical Quarterly 13, No. 2 (1976), 153-157.

3 Jan Mukařovsky, in J. Burbank and P. Steiner (eds), The Word and Verbal Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977).

4 Austin, J. L., Philosophical Papers (Oxford: xford University Press, 1961), 99. This whole passage is quoted from Lubomir Doležel, ‘Extensional and Intensional Narrative Worlds’, Poetics 8 (1979), 193-211, 205.

5 Ibid., 207.

6 J. L. Austin, How to do Things with Words (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), 142-3.

7 Cf. John Lyons, Semantics I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 183: ‘… if we are to give a comprehensive account of the way in which referring expressions are used in everyday discourse, we must admit the possibility that the speaker can, on occasion, talk about things of whose existence (in any sense of “existence”) he is uncertain’.

8 It is not always easy to determine which of the two senses of ‘kindness’ is intended by a speaker; nor do speakers always consciously distinguish between the two senses. For example, ‘X’s kindness, as he showed in his treatment of Y, is remarkable’. Does ‘kindness’ here refer to X's presumed character-traits or to his actions? Perhaps the speaker might say he meant both, an ambiguity which is by no means troublesome, for it would be quite consistent of him to say this.

9 V. K. Chari, ‘The Nature of Poetic Truth: Some Indian Views’, British Journal of Aesthetics 19, No. 3 (Summer 1979), 219-220.


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