Philosophy through Literature: The Cognitive Value
of Philosophical Fiction
By Jukka Mikkonen
Tampere University Press
Distributed by Coronet Books Inc.
$82.50 Paper original
In this study, I examine how philosophical literary fictions convey truths and propositional knowledge. The study begins with an examination of the nature of fiction. After discussing different theories of fiction and showing them insufficient, I shall criticize the prevailing ‘make-believe theories of fiction’, mostly for neglecting certain authorial intentions. After that, I offer a Gricean-based definition of the literary-fictive utterance which defines fiction in terms of the author’s intention to produce a certain kind of response in the audience; I shall maintain that this literary-fictive stance is to be seen as consisting of different kinds of imagining: ‘suppositional’ and ‘dramatic’ imagination (the intrinsic level) and ‘truth-seeking’ imagining (the extrinsic level).
The main thesis of this study is that philosophical fictions are, as a part of their design function, intended to convey truths; that the truths are significant and ought to be recognized in order to understand the works properly. The view I argue for and which I call the ‘moderate propositional theory of literary truth’, maintains that philosophical fictions make significant contributions to knowledge by communicating truths in roughly three ways. First, literary works can assert or claim truths, for instance, when the author speaks through one of her characters. Second, literary works can suggest truths, for instance, by implying theses by the work as a whole. Third, literary works provide the reader thoughts to contemplate and hypotheses to verify. Moreover, I shall argue that literary works persuade their readers in a distinct, broadly ‘enthymematic’ way.
Finally, I shall examine the concept of the author, the role of her intentions in literary interpretation, and the meaning of literary works. I shall criticize ‘anti-intentionalist’ and ‘hypothetical intentionalist’ views of literary interpretation and argue for a ‘conversational philosophical approach’ which maintains that when looking for the philosophical meaning of a literary work, one has to look for the actual author’s intended meaning. I claim that in such an approach, a literary work may be considered a complex utterance of its author.
Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 1662
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