Making sense of fictions through philosophy
Time: 14:00 - 16:30
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HP191
Duration: 2 sessions (over 2 weeks)
What is the course about?
This short course will introduce you to the fascinating topic of fictional characters. Our ability not only to talk about fictional characters, but to say true things about them, has puzzled philosophers throughout history. For example:
‘Sherlock Holmes wears a deerstalker’.
Is this sentence true?
Ordinarily, we think a subject-predicate sentence is true if the subject refers to an individual which has the property named by the predicate. ‘Johnson is the Prime Minister’ is true because ‘Johnson’ picks out Boris Johnson and ‘the Prime Minister’ picks out a property which is true of Boris Johnson. Whether you like it or not, Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister!
But ‘Sherlock Holmes wears a deerstalker’ can’t be true for the same sort of reason, since ‘Sherlock Holmes’ can’t refer to any individual at all. This is because (sadly) Sherlock Holmes does not actually exist.
Or does he? Sure, Sherlock Holmes isn’t a flesh and blood detective who solves crimes in the real world, but perhaps he exists nonetheless as a strange sort of abstract entity – kind of like a number.
This course will also provide a good foundation for anyone who is interested in taking future courses in the philosophy of language.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
We will explore the following questions:
- How can we successfully talk about what does not exist?
- Is there a sense in which fictional characters do exist?
- What exactly is a fiction?
- Under what conditions are sentences about fictional characters true?
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
- Understand the difference between grammatical form and logical form.
- Explain what Frege meant by ‘sense’ and ‘reference’.
- Understand Russell’s theory of definite descriptions.
- Evaluate the arguments for and against the existence of fictional characters.
- Understand how modern philosophers have attempted to provide truth-conditions for sentences involving apparent reference to fictional characters and other non-existents.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
This course is suitable for all students. You do not need to have taken a philosophy course previously.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The course will be taught online through interactive lectures and group discussions. An optional reading list will also be provided for students who want to explore the subject further.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
A notepad and pen for jotting down ideas.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Please see City Lit's website for up-to-date information about upcoming philosophy courses.
Oliver holds a postgraduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Oxford. Since graduating, he has taught a wide variety of courses to a broad range of students, from adults and children exploring the subject for the first time through to advanced undergraduates. His main areas of interest are the Philosophy of Mathematics, Metaphysics, the Philosophy of Language, and Logic. Recently, his research has focussed on developing medieval approaches to semantic paradoxes using modern mathematical methods. When Oliver’s not teaching or writing up papers, he’s either lost in a good book or somewhere deep in the English countryside.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.