The Experience of Fiction
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This dissertation focuses on some of the philosophical puzzles that are associated with the experience of engaging in fictions. Some of these puzzles are longstanding in the philosophical tradition, viz., the paradox of fiction, the paradox of tragedy, and the phenomenon of imaginative resistance. Another has received surprisingly little philosophical attention: the puzzle of why we engage with fictions at all.
I argue against what I will call the Simple Story of fictional engagement. Previous discussions have (to greater or lesser degrees) described engaging in fictions as a matter of entertaining the events described at a fictional world. In the Simple Story, the content of the fiction is decisively determinative of our motivations to engage in fiction and responses to fictions. That is not, however, our experience of fiction. I de-emphasize the role of the content of the fiction in our motivations and responses to fictions. Too little attention has been paid to the role of factors extrinsic to the fiction in explaining the nature of our experiences of and responses to fictions. In general, I stress that the role of the content of the fiction as determinative of our responses is far less important than has been assumed.
Some aestheticians have long been interested in psychological data and I am, too. Many, however, are wary of in evolutionary psychology. They are rightfully worried that to explain the beauty of Anna Karenina in terms of hunting on the savannah would be to miss something deep. There is, however, a useful role for evolutionary psychology to play in explaining why we might have motivations and emotional responses to fictions. I explore this idea.