Pretending to believe in fictional entities

There are almost as many kinds of nominalisms as there are ontological (and semantic categories). There are nominalists of inobservable entities and nominalists regarding mathematical objects; my concern here is with nominalists regarding fictional characters, that is, philosophers who think fictional characters do not exist tout court. They do not subsist or inexist or otherwise occur within our ontology. Thus, this nominalism faces similar problems as other sorts of nominalisms. In particular, I think the basic issue plaguing nominalisms today is that language use is not so neatly divided in discrete domains of discourse. Mathematical nominalists, for example, have strong problems when trying to account for mathematical application and, in general, the way mathematical vocabulary is so deeply interwoven into non-mathematical areas. A nominalism for fictional name faces a similar problem of accounting for the use of fictional empty names outside fiction. The nominalist about fictional names [NFN for now on] thinks there is some kind of pretense involved when dealing with fictional empty names [FEN for now on]. But it is hard to see how a little girl like Sally, who believes in Santa Claus, is involved in any kind of pretense when she puts milk and cookies next to the fireplace on Christmas eve. Can we pretend without realizing we are pretending? Consider a more radical example. Take father Chris who is an ardent believer in Christianity and its creed. Contrast him with Lorenzo, who does not believe god exists, but finds it fruitful to pretend in order to get some favors from the church. Chris believes that God loves us all. But what about Lorenzo? He pretends to believe. So either (A) he also believes that God loves us all (because it is true in his pretense) or (B) he cannot believe that God loves us all (because he does not believe God exists). Either way, these are bad news for the nominalist. If God would happen not to exist, according to NFN, there would be no difference between Lorenzo and Chris. Both would be pretending in some way or another. If (A), they would have the very same belief: that God loves us all. This goes against our intuitions. If (B), there would be something that Chris could believe that Lorenzo wouldn’t, which would go against the thesis that they are both pretending. In any case, I think our intuitions go strongly against the idea that believers are pretending.
As I said above, the problem is that, when we mistakenly believe that names are not empty, we use them just like non-empty names. But what happens when we mix them within a single discourse, even a sentence? Do we switch between pretense and non-pretense? Take the following two conditionals:


  1. If I do not behave, Santa Claus will not bring me gifts this Christmas
  2. If Santa Claus does not bring the gifts, my parents do.
Take (1) to be one of Sally’s beliefs. Does it mean that (in pretense) (If I do not behave, Santa Claus will not bring me gifts this Christmas) or If I do not behave, (in pretense) Santa Claus will not bring me gifts this Christmas?

Now, take (2) to be something Sally believes as well (maybe she is already suspicious about Santa’s existence). Once again, if we put the pretense operator with the whole conditional on its scope, by Modus Ponens if Sally finds out Santa Claus is not who brings the gifts, she could not infer that her parents do, but only that (in pretense) her parents do. This surely cannot be right.


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