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The Truth about Sherlock Holmes

Organon F, 2017, vol. 24, No 3, pp. 339-365.
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According to possibilism, or non-actualism, fictional characters are possible individuals. Possibilist accounts of fiction do not only assign the intuitively correct truth-conditions to sentences in a fiction, but has the potential to provide powerful explanatory models for a wide range of phenomena associated with fiction (though these two aspects of possibilism are, I argue, crucially distinct). Apart from the classic defense by David Lewis the idea of modeling fiction in terms of possible worlds have been widely criticized. In this article, I provide a defense of a possibilist account against some lines of criticism. To do so, I assume that names for fictional characters are directly referential and a possible-worlds model that accommodates transworld identity. On this background, I argue, it is possible to construct an elegant model of fictional discourse using familiar models of information exchange in ordinary discourse, and I sketch how this model can be used to i) make a natural distinction between fictional and counterfactual discourse, ii) account for creativity, and iii) sustain a natural definition of truth-in-fiction that avoids certain familiar objections to possibilism. Though I set aside questions about the metaphysical commitments of a possible-world interpretation here, there is accordingly reason to think that the battle over possibilist treatments of fiction will have to be fought over metaphysical foundations rather than technical shortcomings.

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