AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

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"The Matter of Serial Fictions" by Chris Tillman

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Chris Tillman is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Manitoba. His main interest is in metaphysics, but he considers practically everything to be an issue in metaphysics. He is originally from Missouri, where his first major was in painting and he spent his free time in bands, including a country/rap band (hick-hop, if you will). These days his free time is more likely to be consumed by curing meats, genre fiction, and making Korean farmer hooch (makgeolli).
 
Serial fictions pose special problems for accounts of truth in fiction. What is true according to a fiction at one time can appear to change as a story develops. Sometimes these changes are dramatic. According to A New Hope, and even according to early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back, it seems it was not true in the Star Wars fiction that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. So in 1977 it seems wrong to say that Vader was Luke’s father, according to the relevant fiction. But in 1980, it seems right to say that Vader was Luke’s father, according to the relevant fiction.
 
Roy T. Cook mentions another famous example of this phenomenon in his post from July 24. Doyle intended to kill off Holmes in “The Final Problem” in 1893, but succumbed to external pressures and brought Holmes back in “The Adventure of the Empty House” in 1903.
Now the claim that Holmes is alive according to the relevant fiction seems defective in 1895 in a way that the same claim does not seem defective in 1905. The standard way of accounting for the defectiveness of the first claim is to say that it is false according to the relevant fiction. And the standard way of accounting for the non-defectiveness of the second claim is to say that it is true according to the relevant fiction. But this seems to lead to a problem.
 
There are a number of ways of bringing out the problem. One way would involve exploring subtleties or challenging assumptions glossed over in the set-up above. But I propose to ignore the subtleties and grant the assumptions for now.
 
Another way to bring out the problem is via what Ben Caplan (2014) calls “The Contradiction Problem”: 
 
Each of the following seems true:
 
1. “The Final Problem” is part of the Holmes canon.
2. The Holmes canon does not contradict itself.
3. “The Final Problem” contradicts the Holmes canon.
 
But that seems strange. It would be nice to have an account of truth in fiction in which (1-3) are not all true.
 
So why think (1-3) are true? 
 
The first claim seems true since it seems the Holmes canon is an extended fiction that begins with A Study in Scarlet and includes “The Final Problem” and “The Adventure of the Empty House”. 
 
The second claim seems true since, ignoring the issue of the location of Watson’s wound, it does not appear that any proposition and its negation is true according to the Holmes canon. The claim that Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls is false in the canon, given that “The Adventure of the Empty House” is part of the canon and it is false according to that story that Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls. So it is false according to the Holmes canon that Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls. So it is true according to the Holmes canon that Holmes did not die at Reichenbach Falls. So, it seems—a few hiccups aside—that the Holmes canon does not contradict itself.
 
The third claim seems true since the claim that Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls is true according to “The Final Problem”. But its negation is true according to the Holmes canon.
 
In “Serial Fiction, Continued” Ben Caplan criticizes linguistic solutions to the Contradiction problem due to Ross Cameron (2012) and Andrew McGonigal (2013). Cameron’s view is a version of contextualism: to grossly oversimplify, there is no proposition that Holmes died at Reichenbach falls; rather, there is the proposition that Holmes* died at Reichenbach falls, which is what is expressed in 1895, and the proposition that Holmes** died at Reichenbach Falls, which is what is expressed in 1905. ‘Holmes’ refers to different characters in different contexts. As a result, “The Final Problem” does not contradict the Holmes canon (and isn’t really part of the canon since it’s about a different character—one that dies at Reichenbach Falls!)
 
McGonigal’s view is a version of relativism: to grossly oversimplify, there is one proposition expressed by ‘Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls’. And that proposition is true relative to a body of work that includes “The Final Problem” but excludes subsequent Holmes stories, and is false relative to a body of work that includes all of the Holmes stories. As a result, “The Final Problem” does not contradict the Holmes canon. 
 
Caplan (2014) lodges a number of objections to Cameron’s contextualism and McGonigal’s relativism that I won’t rehearse here. Caplan himself prefers a different solution to the Contradiction problem—one that is more “metaphysical”. Caplan endorses what he calls “Work Contextualism”. Serial fictions have contents, in much the same way sentences do. That is, they express contents relative to contexts. To grossly oversimplify, just as a context-sensitive sentence expresses different contents relative to different contexts, serial fictions express different contents relative to different contexts. In 1895, the Holmes canon expressed some propositions that included the proposition that Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls. But in 1905, the Holmes canon expressed some propositions that included the proposition that Holmes did not die at Reichenbach Falls. As a result, “The Final Problem” does not contradict the Holmes canon. 
 
I agree with Caplan that the problems arising from serial fiction are best addressed by a more “metaphysical” solution than by a more “linguistic” solution. But I doubt Caplan goes far enough in this regard. As Caplan notes, there seems to be an important disanalogy between context-sensitive expressions and serial fictions. Context-sensitive expressions are associated with Kaplanian characters. These can be thought of as functions from contexts to contents, and are associated with a sort of rule that “tells” us which content gets associated in which context. For example, in a context in which I am the speaker, the content of ‘I’ is me, whereas in a context in which you are the speaker, the content of ‘I’ is you. The associated rule for ‘I’ tells us to assign the speaker of a given context as the content of ‘I’ in that context. But there does not seem to be a correspondingly simple character that assigns propositions to the Holmes canon relative to contexts. This problem becomes especially difficult if we try to factor in retconning. Given sufficient artistic license, almost any serial fiction could have practically any propositions as its content at any given time.
 
One explanation of this apparent fact may be that serial fictions aren’t really analogous to context-sensitive expressions. But if that’s so, it seems we’re left with no solution to the Contradiction problem.
 
I propose that, when considering the nature of serial fiction, we should move even farther away from linguistic solutions. Let’s start by considering a case that has nothing to do with serial fiction: the Height problem. In 1977, I was less than 6 feet tall. In 2014, I am over 6 feet tall. Call ‘My Life’ the collection of facts about me. Call ‘1977-me’ the collection of facts about me that are restricted to what’s going on in 1977. Now we can present a problem that parallels the Contradiction problem:
 
4. 1977-me is a part of My Life.
5. My Life doesn’t contradict itself.
6. 1977-me contradicts My Life.
 
The first claim seems true since My Life is a collection of facts that begins with 1976-me and includes 2014-me. 
 
The second claim seems true since it does not appear that any proposition and its negation is true according to My Life. The claim that I am less than 6 feet tall is false in My Life, given that 2014-me is part of My Life and it is false according to 2014-me that I am less than 6 feet tall. So it is false according to My Life that I am less than 6 feet tall. So it is true according to My Life that I am not less than 6 feet tall. So, it seems that My Life does not contradict itself.
 
The third claim seems true since the claim that I am less than 6 feet tall is true according to 1977-me. But its negation is true according to My Life.
 
The Height problem parallels the Contradiction problem. But it also parallels a familiar problem of change over time. My proposal is to treat the parallel problems in a parallel fashion.
 
According to the solution to the Height problem I prefer, I am distinct from my “matter”. Plausibly, I am the sort of thing that has cells as matter. And I change over time in part by having different matter at different times. My having considerably less matter in 1977 explains why it was true then that I was less than 6 feet tall. My having considerably more matter in 2014 partly explains why I am now over 6 feet tall. So (6) is false—that 1977-me was less than 6 feet tall does not contradict My Life since the former fact concerns the matter I had in 1977, which, as it happens, is not the matter I have today. 
 
Note that this does not mean in any sense that I myself am a sort of context-sensitive being expressing different matter at different time. What’s going on here is just a matter of an ordinary object enduring ordinary change.
 
In the case of serial fictions, we can tell a parallel story. Serial fictions have “matter” as well, though they’re not the sorts of things that have cells as their matter. Rather, they have propositions as their matter. And what matter they have can change over time. In 1977, my matter determined that I was less than 6 feet tall. In 1895, the Holmes canon’s matter included the proposition that Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls. In 2014, my matter determined that I was not less than 6 feet tall. In 1905, the Holmes canon’s matter included the proposition that Holmes did not die at Reichenbach Falls. Thus (3) is false, but not because of the linguistic properties of utterances concerning the Holmes canon. Nor because the canon itself is a context-sensitive entity. Rather, (3) is false because the problem, at bottom, is the familiar problem of change over time. And the Holmes canon changed over time in such a way as to make (3) false.
 
This is, of course, just a sketch of my preferred solution to the problems posed by serial fictions. But I hope I have said enough to make clear what the problem is supposed to be and why it might be preferable to view the case as merely a case of change over time. 
 
If successful, I think the account could be extended to deal in a fairly straightforward fashion with other works that are intended to change over time, such as Jason deCaires Taylor’s underwater sculptures or songs by Shellac. The matter for sculptures and songs is plausibly different from the matter for me or the Holmes canon. But I think the basic idea could be applied in the same way to these other cases.
 
Finally, I think the proposed solution has an advantage over Roy T. Cook’s probabilistic proposal. My proposal preserves flat-out truth and falsity with respect to fictions. I consider this an advantage because I think we have robust intuitions that some claims are flat-out true in certain fictions (Holmes is a consulting detective) while other claims are flat-out false in certain fictions (Holmes is a porcupine). And I think these intuitions are worth preserving if we can do so in a reasonable way. And I think we can.
 
(Thanks to Christy Mag Uidhir for the invitation to guest post and to Ben Caplan for comments.)

17 thoughts on “"The Matter of Serial Fictions" by Chris Tillman

  1. Hi Chris (if I may),

    I should begin by saying that I think there's something very plausible about the view you're putting forward, perhaps especially because it goes some way to including fiction in the usual range of philosophical explanations rather than making it into a total outsider/corner case. It makes sense (to me!) to treat some questions about serial fiction as analogous to questions about identity over time, and thereby do some deflating. As Lewis observed in his appendices to Truth in Fiction, there's nothing weird about P and ~P both being true in a fiction, so long as they're not simultaneously true. The time indices (and, I guess, story indices) make all the difference.

    But I wonder what happens when we turn this approach back on an individual unit rather than a series as a whole. It's one thing to say that the Holmes canon is consistent despite what we're led to believe in The Final Problem (although I'm adamant that the story doesn't mandate that it's true he's dead!). But what should we make of contradictions in a single story-unit? I don't have in mind little details like Watson's name or wound, but rather contradictions that are deliberately built into a story, e.g. stories about time travel (although TBH, I think these can be parsed away with indexing, e.g. to worlds/timelines), Priest's “Sylvan's Box,” or Currie's thought experiment about the Gödel-refuter. They present the same kind of problem, but it doesn't look like we can just clear it up in the same way, by indexing appropriately. And since there's no conceptual bar to these kinds of stories being serialized, it looks like your proposal will only really work for some problems with some serialized stories, and not for others. So some of the enticing theoretical unity gets lost.

    Maybe one just has to bite the bullet and say that they're vacuously true, or that they're just somehow misleading (e.g. maybe the narrator's wrong/lying). I think a Lewisean could probably get away with that. But can you? Is there a metaphysical (/identity-over-time) analogue for shrugging our shoulders in that way?

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  2. Chris,

    To what degree does your approach require reifying “the canon” for a particular series?

    Superman is a character in several inconsistent but overlapping fictions (this is especially true if we think about Golden Age Superman, before comics publishers became interested in developing formal/official approaches towards what is canonically true across the stories they were telling). If Lois and Clark got married in issue N, it may or may not have consequences for their marital status in issue N+1. But even at their least coherent and unified, any given issue of Superman tended to rely on some events that had transpired in earlier issues.

    Assume we have a comic book character (“The Amazing Tillman”) who appears in issues N, M, O, P, and Q of a given comic. Suppose that Q presupposes events from N, M, and O, and conflicts with P, that P presupposes events from N and O, but conflicts with M, and that N, M, and O unproblematically form a coherent story. A new issue R might be compatible with any of a number of different subsets of the previous issues, and later issues might include or not include R, depending on the whims of the writers or various other factors.

    It seems that rather than there being one Amazing Tillman canon, we have a variety of overlapping serial stories about the Amazing Tillman. And so, if we ask “Is proposition P true in the Amazing Tillman Canon?” (where P follows from a set of events spanning issue N and Q) we're asking the wrong question, and we would at least need to specify a more specific set of installments to be grouping before we can ask that question.

    But if we allow that installments of a “single” serial fiction might simultaneously be contributing to multiple, inconsistent continuities, the Holmes case starts to look like a (less convoluted) version of this. Say there is a Sparse Holmes Canon and a Completist Holmes Canon. The two differ in whether they include the stories set subsequent the Final Problem. Completist Canon definitively makes true that Holmes did not die at Reichenbach. Sparse Canon either makes true that Holmes did, or assigns that proposition some status such as “extremely likely to be true” (depending on how we feel about what the text of that story requires).

    I am not sure I've expressed my worry as clearly as I could, but maybe the rough idea is clear?

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  3. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your comment. I don't think the propositions that constitute a fiction at a time need to be complete and consistent. I doubt that anything Lucas did determines whether it's true according to the Star Wars canon that Luke had breakfast the morning he joined the rebel assault squadron, or what he had for breakfast provided he had breakfast. The story just seems to leave that open. So the propositions that constitute the Star Wars canon now are not complete.

    I also think that, on the intended interpretation, “Sylvan's Box” is constituted by some propositions that are not only incomplete, but inconsistent. There is a proposition and its negation that are true according to the story (The box is completely empty), but that doesn't imply that there are any true contradictions. Likewise, I can say something of the form P & ~P. Then, according to me, P & ~P. But that in itself does not seem to be a problem.

    I think the issue of inconsistent fictions does not amount to the same problem as the problem with the Holmes or Star Wars canon since (a few hiccups aside) those canons do seem to present consistent stories, whereas Priest's story does not.

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  4. Hi Lewis,

    Thanks for your comment. I think you're right that in many cases it can be very tricky to identify “the canon” and in such cases it's a mistake to ask what's true according to *the* canon. But in other cases it's not so hard. And I think if we have some case in which it's pretty clear what the canon is, but some part of it seems to contradict the canon, then we have a recipe for the sort of problem Ben mentions. And then we need a solution to it.

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  5. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for discussing my paper! Somebody suggested a view like the one you describe above when I gave the paper at the 2007 ASA – was that you? I mentioned a related view in footnote 10 of my paper, in contrasting temporal worms and stages, and suggested that it might help with some of the problems. I was inclined to give a bit more weight than you do to the idea that your theory of soap opera shouldn't force you to take a stand on e.g. the reality of the past, or how we endure through time, etc. And I also found some of the epistemic and evaluative implications of the kind of view that you suggest unattractive – for example, I wanted to allow people to revisit qualitatively the same stories across time. (You find an old comic book in the attic and casually reread it. Unbeknownst to you, lots of events have happened in the canon between the two readings. I wanted to allow that the salient episode set could just include that single comic, and so you reread qualitatively the same story, that recounts the very same events. But if I understand the above position correctly, you'd want to say that I am reading a story that presents different events, but that that fact is just epistemically inaccessible to me in the context?)

    Btw, although Ben and Ross ascribe relativism to me, all I really say in the paper is that it does a bit better than some fairly simplistic rivals, given the desiderata that I endorsed w.r.t. metaphysical neutrality, epistemology, etc. (Ben also say that I only commit myself to the claim that 'Luke is Vader's son' is not true as assessed from 1977, when I actually I say that it is false). Moreover, the way that you and he run the contradiction problem obviously just begs the question against a relativist position, since you don't relativise to context of assessment when you're setting up e.g. the case for 3. That's part of what makes it a bit misleading for y'all to draw the kind of distinction between metaphysical solutions and semantic approaches that you do – your objection against rivals only looks to work on your favoured semantics. But dialectical issues aside, I think that what counts as a solution will really depend heavily on what you're trying to preserve, and why. It would be interesting to try and get clearer on what constraints on solutions are common ground, which ones are contested, etc.

    Anyway, thanks again to you, Ben and Roy for the very interesting discussion, and to Christy for hosting it!

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. Andrew McGonigal is right in thinking that Caplan 2014 is wrong about the interpretation of McGonigal 2013. Without wishing to speculate too much, it is possible that Caplan was misled by the following passage.

    “Suppose that Johnny’s father, in 1977, assesses his son’s utterance. As with the contextualist, the relativist can hold, plausibly, that the only salient episode in their joint context is the first. Johnny’s utterance is not true relative to this episode, because it is not true according to that movie—when it stands alone, as it were—that Luke is Darth’s son.” (p. 176, my emphases)

    But the textual evidence confirms that McGonigal is right about the interpretation of McGonigal 2013.

    “When assessed relative to the set of episodes that are salient in his father’s context, Johnny’s utterance is false.” (p. 176, my emphasis)

    “the relativist sees a single propositional content expressed by both boys,

    (iii) Luke is Darth Vader’s son,

    that is true as assessed relative to Jimmy’s circumstances in 2007, but false as assessed relative to Johnny’s in 1977.” (p. 175, my emphasis)

    Caplan ought to be embarrassed about his mistake.

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  8. Hi Andrew:

    Your 2013 paper certainly seemed to be making a case for a kind of relativism, but I agree that one should be wary of moving from “X argues that P fares better than Q when it comes to R” or “X defends P from objection Q” to “X asserts P.”

    As for begging the question against relativism, I'll have to think about that some more. But, as a matter of autobiography, setting things up in a way that fails to properly accommodate a relativist point of view sounds psychologically plausible.

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  9. Hey Ben! Thanks for posting. I should have made clearer in my initial post that I really liked your paper, and that I thought that the Contradiction Problem is a really nice way of approaching the issues. I ought to have given the 'changing work' view much more consideration in the paper than I did – I think it's a lot more interesting than the vanilla kind of contextualism that I ended up spending quite a bit of time on. (Roy's no-truth approach is interesting too). I don't think I had really appreciated how many people had argued for a view like that in print until I read your paper. Anyway, thanks for 'fessing up so readily with regard to the fatal 'not true'/'false' distinction. It was the charge of having misinterpreted 'Hope' that really hurt my heart though…that and being lumped together with Cameron… 😦

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  10. Apologies Michel–I accidentally typed 'Michael'!

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  11. Hi Andrew! Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately I am not responsible for anything said at the 2007 ASA.

    Fwiw, I don't think a theory of soap opera is the tail that wags the dog of change over time. Rather, problems raised by soap operas are, at bottom, problems of change over time. So we should import whatever solution to the problem of change over time is best to address problems with soap operas. I have favorites when it comes to theories of change over time, but I'm more interested here in pressing the more general claim that we need a solution to the problem of change over time, and whichever is best can also be used to solve problems of serial fictions.

    On the epistemic point, I don't really find the consequence of the view that you point out to be very troubling. Suppose Sally thinks the Holmes stories end with “The Final Solution”. Given her information, she's in no position to know that Holmes did not die at Reichenbach Falls. But when she says “According to the Holmes canon, Holmes died at RF” she says something false.

    I'm also obviously guilty of attributing relativism to you. Apologies! You and Ben are right that I shouldn't do that.

    Finally, I don't think the way Ben sets up the Contradiction Problem begs the question against the relativist. In note 17 Ben says “If we wanted to be more formal, we could say that “Hope” contradicts the original trilogy in the sense that some proposition that is true relative to an appropriate circumstance that specifies “Hope” as relevant is such that its negation . . . is true relative to an appropriate circumstance that specifies the original trilogy as relevant . . . Appealing to contexts of assessment rather than circumstances of evaluation doesn't seem to make a difference here . . . “Hope” also contradicts the original trilogy in the following sense: DAD is true when assessed from a context in which the original trilogy is relevant; whereas NOT DAD is true when assessed from a context in which “Hope” is relevant.”

    I agree that semantic issues are still relevant on the proposals that Ben and I are trying to push. But semantic issues are relevant to more general change over time stuff as well. Still, that sort of problem seems to be primarily a metaphysical one: how do things change over time? Solutions, while relevant to semantics, seem to me to be metaphysical solutions. And solutions to other problems, like What does 'might' contribute to truth conditions of sentences containing it? seem more semantic, though the answers may also be metaphysically relevant. I suspect Ben and I would agree that in the serial fiction case, the “action” is in the nature of serial fictions, rather than sentences or utterances about them. Maybe that's (partly) where we disagree?

    At any rate, thanks again for your comments. And thanks for getting the problem of serial fiction ball rolling! I thought your paper was excellent and fascinating. This topic has been a lot of fun to think about.

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  12. Hi Chris,

    Thanks! Lots of interesting stuff there. Some quick not-very-well-thought-out replies

    (i) My initial inclination is to say that it can't just reduce to a problem of change over time, because the same kind of phenomenon arises in synchronic cases. Take a case where a fiction F is 'disparate' rather than serial, in that lots of spatially separated people are working on parts of it simultaneously.

    Case 1: A engages with part X of F and comes to hold that According to X, P, when X strongly suggests that According to X, not-P. Nothing about what is going on elsewhere in the creation of F settles that According to X, P.

    Case 2: B engages with part X of F and comes to hold that According to X, P, when X strongly suggests that According to X, not-P (and not: According to X, P). Something going on elsewhere in the creation of F settles that According to X, P.

    I feel like there are popular genres of fiction where Cases 1 and 2 are always live, non-ruled out epistemic options, but that it is still fine/prescribed to e.g. hold that according to X, P when engaging with the fiction. I'm not sure why this would be fine/prescribed if a realist view of the kind that you suggest is true. It seems more plausible to think that on that view, you should remain agnostic about whether According to X, P, given that there is a live, non-ruled out epistemic possibility.

    In your Holmes case above, you do make things a bit easier for yourself by (i) dealing with a claim about the canon, rather than the episode being read and (ii) dealing with a genre where miraculous comebacks, fake deaths, simulated character actions etc aren't commonplace. My own view is that many other popular genres, it's more costly to in effect recommend agnosticism rather than ongoing, flexible patterns of belief/make-belief evaluated, in the normal case, against progressively larger blocks of fiction. But maybe you don't agree that agnosticism is prescribed even when it is accepted that there are non-eliminated epistemic possibilities, or that extant practices of aesthetic creation and engagement shouldn't constrain what best deserves the name 'semantics of fiction' or 'metaphysics of fiction' or whatever. Or maybe you think that e.g. the possibilities can be properly ignored or something?

    2) On the question begging point, I was thinking that, for the relativist, (3) is obviously false when evaluated relative to 1893 (when “Holmes canon” in (1)-(3) picks up on the episode set up to 1893) and when evaluated relative to 1903 and 2014 (when the canon is bigger and “The Final Problem” describes a faked death). If you evaluate (1)-(3) against different contexts of assessment there is not even a prima facie contradiction, any more than when you evaluate two instances of 'Grass is orange' relative to different worlds. Is that consistent with the way that you were thinking about it?

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  13. Sorry, there's a typo in the above – the relevant sentence should read 'I feel like there are popular genres of fiction where Cases 1 and 2 are always live, non-ruled out epistemic options, but that it is still fine/prescribed to e.g. hold that according to X, not-P when engaging with the fiction'. I want to account for the feeling that the Case 2 utterance is better than Case 1, but that the live epistemic availability of the two cases (for certain genres) shouldn't make it impermissible/problematic to judge all out in accordance with the appearances of the part/episode.

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  14. Hi Andrew, thanks for this!

    1. I think the synchronic cases can be handled by relativizing to spacetime. On Ben's view, the content a work has would be different at different spatiotemporal regions. On my view, the propositions a work is coincident with varies with respect to region. This objection seems very similar to an objection Dodd raises to Caplan and Matheson's musical perdurantism. I think the sort of reply they give can work here.

    2. I don't have a strong inclination to think we can always revisit an early episode and find it just as it was. I gave the sort of case I did because I have clearer judgments about it and it seems like a case that my view gets right the relativist doesn't clearly get right.

    3. I think we can think of worlds being incompatible in the sense that w and w* are incompatible insofar as there could not be a w** where everything true at w and w* is true at w**. This will be idle in the normal case, since worlds are supposed to be consistent and complete. But episodes don't need to be either. So the situation for the relativist seems to me to be one in which we have incomplete worlds along with a big world that's supposed to include some of those incomplete worlds. It's pretty weird if ~P is true according to one of those incomplete worlds, but that world is included in a bigger world that includes P, while the bigger world is consistent. That's pretty hand-wavy, but I think that's how the set-up is supposed to go for the relativist. The problem doesn't clearly just go away if we adopt a relativist approach.

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  15. Hi Chris, thanks for yours! I haven't seen the exchange between Dodd and Caplan/Matheson so I'll have to look that up. I agree that it sounds like the issues are similar. Out of interest, do you agree that if you don't know what other episodes have been or will be produced, but you know that they might have or might be, and that a standard feature of the category/genre is that later episodes 'write over' earlier ones, that you should be agnostic about which story is being told in the episode that you are currently engaging with? Or do you find that implausible?

    The type of relativism I set out in the paper wouldn't take the form that you suggest. We don't have a big world that includes the incomplete worlds. (I can see why that would seem weird). In one case we assess relative to e.g. Hope (then the film tells a story where Vader is not Luke's father) and in the other we assess relative to Hope+Empire (then the film tells the first half of a story where Vader is Luke's father, but Luke doesn't yet believe this because he has been deceived). It's closer to Aristotle on body parts than the straightforward kind of set-inclusion that you suggest – assessed independently of my body, it's just a hand-shaped lump of flesh, but as a functional part of my body, it's a hand.

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  16. Hi Andrew, The analogy to Aristotle is helpful. Thanks for that!. I think when one is apprised of the story so far, one can know what's happened so far, according to the story. (So like Lucas or you or me with respect to Star Wars.) I think we both get this right and the Extreme Realist gets this wrong. But if there are already some episodes I'm not aware of, I'm not in a position to know what's gone on so far according to the story.

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  17. Hi Chris,

    Thanks, that's helpful. What about the case where you are in fact appraised of the story so far (in the sense that you are engaging with a not-yet-superseded episode) but you don't know that you are? There's a range of cases here of course (the comic in the attic that is de facto the last issue although you have no reason to think that it is; the TV series with scripts already written but not yet performed, filmed or released; the showrunner/director/creator/head writer that knows how the ending is going to turn out; versions of the previous cases where the show gets cancelled after episodes have been made, etc). I guess there's no obligation to say the same thing in every case. The relativist can do a reasonably good job of explaining how to deal with the sense that there isn't a deep fact of the matter to be discovered in such cases. I guess e.g. a perdurantist should go for lots of partially overlapping fictions, and then have truth in F be truth in the selected part of the selected fiction or something? It would be good to hear about what determined the selection relation. It's easier if you think of a single canon changing over time, but there will be a lot more indeterminacy than that involved I suspect. Do you have a view about the best way for the 'change-over-time' approach to go?

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