According to orthodoxy, what's true in a fiction goes beyond what's entailed by the text making up the story. Although fictions are gappy (there's no fact about whether Hamlet had an even number of hairs), some things are determinately true without being stated, or being entailed by thugs that are stated (Hamlet was not a leprechaun). This orthodoxy is pretty much universal, I think, and I've relied on it in my work on thought experiments
In the past few months, I've worried a bit about that orthodoxy. I don't think orthodoxy here should be abandoned, but I do think it faces an important challenge that hasn't, to my knowledge, been articulated before. The challenge begins with a consideration of non-fiction.
Not all non-fiction is true; some works of non-fiction are mistaken, and some are fraudulent. (All biographies are non-fiction, but not all biographies are true.) What determines whether a non-fiction is true? The key to the challenge is this: we can and should distinguish between whether a work of non-fiction is true, and whether it is merely misleading. I could write a very deceptively misleading biography of David Lewis, such that anyone who read it would walk away with rampant false beliefs about him. But if I did so using only true sentences, relying on pragmatic implicatures and natural assumptions to generate the misleading nature of my non-fiction, then, I claim, the biography I have written is true.
Now take a fiction made up of just the same sentences I used in my misleading autobiography of Lewis. This is just the sort of situation where, according to orthodoxy, principles of generation for truth in fiction will generate false propositions and add them to the set of fictional truths. But this, given what we've said in the previous paragraph, is inconsistent with the truism that contents of fictions don't work in ways radically different from those of non-fictions. A non-fiction's content is true if its sentences are. Can we really deny that a fiction, sentence-by-sentence identical with a non-fiction, has true content if its corresponding non-fiction does? That's the puzzle.
Here, as I see them, are the options:
- Reject orthodoxy. What's true in the fiction does not, after all, go beyond what's given in the literal text.
- Posit a stark disanalogy. Their obvious forms of similarity notwithstanding, fictions and non-fictions get content in radically divergent ways.
- Bifurcate 'content'. (Brian Weatherson suggested this to me when I posed the puzzle to him.) Agree with the conclusion about 'content' of fictions in some sense, while insisting that there's a richer 'true in the fiction' that goes beyond content.
I guess I'm inclined to agree with Brian that, of these choices, (3) is the best way to go. But I'd be interested to hear if anyone thinks I'm selling the other possibilities short, or have overlooked additional possible solutions.