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Imagining What Things are Like and the Paradox of Fiction

Justin D'Ambrosio (St Andrews)

The paradox of fiction is a puzzle concerning why we respond emotionally to fiction, given that we know the objects of fiction are not real, and the events in fiction do not occur. In this paper we offer a novel account of how fiction engages the imagination that explains why we respond as we do, and in doing so we provide a novel solution the paradox. The key to our solution is the recognition that the authors of fiction do not only instruct us to imagine that certain things are the case, but they also instruct us to imagine what various objects and events are like to people of various kinds or with various perspectives. In complying with their instructions, we often imagine what various events feel like to those people—we have vicarious experiences—and so go into imaginative states that are phenomenally similar to the experiences of the subjects from whose perspectives we are asked to imagine. Given that such experiences are exactly what authors have instructed us to undertake, the affective responses that they involve are perfectly rational.

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