(Really) In love with fictional characters

“Why I ‘married’ a cartoon character”, is a 2019 headline from BBC news
reporting on a recent trend in Japan.1 Such practices often meet with an incred-
ulous stare. Suppose marrying a fictional character were legal (as some people
want), then “I married a fictional character” could be literally true (without in-
verted comas). But how can such statement be literally true if fictional characters
do not exist? Falling in love with a fictional character is not a recent phenomenon:
Pygmalion is said to have fallen in love with the woman he had carved. Such re-
lationships typically blur the metaphysical distinction between fact and fiction:
fictional and real entities apparently relate to each other. Semantically speaking,
fictional characters act as truth-makers.
Philosophers of language have coined the term “metafictional” to denote
statements which are both about a fictional character and true in the real world.2
The semantics of metafictional statements is an open problem in the philosophy
of fiction today. Realists argue that fictional characters exist in some sense, es-
pecially because they act as truth-makers for metafictional statements (Kripke
1973/2013), (Salmon 1998), (Thomasson 1999); antirealists argue that metafic-
tional statements continue the fiction in some sense, given that “existing fic-
tional” characters is nonsensical (Walton 1990), (Everett 2013). The antirealism
vs realism debate thus focuses on the interpretation of the metafictional linguis-
tic data. Unfortunately, there is no independent characterisation of the data: it is
generally construed as more or less strong evidence for realism. I think we need
a systematic, exhaustive typology for the metafictional. Using hints from the
literature, one can find some useful linguistic distinctions which are explicitly
orthogonal to the debate (see especially (Parsons 1980) and (Woods 2018)). Us-
ing new tools from metaontology, I think we can investigate systematically infer-
ence patterns between metafictional statements.3 We thus find that metafictional
statements form conceptual families. All families, I contend, are not equally
threatening to the fact/fiction distinction.

Speaker:  

Louis Rouillé

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