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Res Philosophica


published on December 8, 2015

Zsófia Zvolenszky

Fictional Characters, Mythical Objects, and the Phenomenon of Inadvertent Creation

My goal is to reflect on the phenomenon of inadvertent creation and argue that—various objections to the contrary—it doesn’t undermine the view that fictional characters are abstract artifacts. My starting point is a recent challenge by Jeffrey Goodman that is originally posed for those who hold that fictional characters and mythical objects alike are abstract artifacts. The challenge: if we think that astronomers like Le Verrier, in mistakenly hypothesizing the planet Vulcan, inadvertently created an abstract artifact, then the “inadvertent creation” element turns out to be inescapable yet theoretically unattractive. Based on considerations about actually existing concrete objects featured in fictional works (as Napoleon is in Tolstoy’s War and Peace), I argue that independently of one’s stand on mythical objects, admitting fictional characters as abstract artifacts is enough to give rise to the challenge at hand; yet this very point serves to undermine the challenge, indicating that inadvertent creation is not nearly as worrisome as Goodman suggests. Indeed, the inadvertent creation phenomenon’s generality extends far beyond objects of fiction and myth, and I will use this observation to counter a further objection. Taking fictional characters (and mythical objects) to be abstract artifacts therefore remains a viable option.

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