Abstracts

Greg Currie and Anna Ichino (York/Nottingham)
‘Getting (More or Less) Rational Beliefs from Fiction’

Fictions are credited with a significant power to affect our attitudes and behaviours, as phenomena such as censorship show. Philosophers since Plato have been concerned with the idea that our imaginings in response to fictional stories affect our beliefs; and recent philosophical accounts of so-called imaginative resistance have suggested  that we resist to engaging imaginatively with certain fictions partly because we are worried that they might influence our beliefs in undesirable ways. Are these worries justified? To answer this question, and more in general to understand the relation between fiction and belief-change better, we seek to identify the mental mechanisms that underlie fiction’s influences on beliefs, and to assess their rationality. We also consider the influence that fiction has on other attitudes and states, such as desires, emotions or moods, because  changes in these attitudes/states are often associated with, and may be evidence for – or perhaps be mistaken for – changes in belief.

Maria Forsberg (Stockholm University)
‘Explaining Phenomenological Proximity in Painting’

It is widely believed that subjective experiences prompted by paintings that we take to be originals differ in kind from those induced by paintings that we take to be copies. More specifically, writers have often suggested that experiences belonging to the former kind, but not those belonging to the latter, involve a sense of proximity to the painter and his or her creative actions in painting the original painting; we feel as if we are, in a sense, physically close to him or her and to those actions. Explanations of the phenomenological characteristics are rare though. In this paper, I argue that what explains the phenomenological characteristics, is that we have certain kinds of beliefs about original paintings. I also suggest that the relevant beliefs bring the characteristics about modulo what psychologists calls a law of contagion, but that the propositional attitude that we take to the law is not, as Carolyn Korsmeyer has recently suggested, belief. A more promising route would be to understand the causal mechanism in terms of alief.

Stacie Friend (Heythrop)
‘Reading and Representation’

Works of fiction are typically grounded in the real world; even the most outlandish science fictions usually presuppose ordinary psychological motivations for their characters. As a result, to understand a story we must mobilise our beliefs about the world. I describe some of the evidence from the psychology of text comprehension concerning the ways in which beliefs contribute to story understanding, and in particular to mental representations of the ‘world of the story’. I then deploy this picture in suggesting new approaches to several issues about our engagement with fiction, including the compatibility between imagining and believing, the puzzle of imaginative resistance and the role of the ‘Reality Principle’ in determining what is true-in-a-fiction. 

Geert Gooskens (University of Antwerp)
‘Photography and Trust’

In his seminal paper ‘Transparent Pictures’, Kendall Walton remarks that basing beliefs on photographs may require trust. He does not, however, provide an extensive account of the relation between photography and trust. Since I believe that a more substantial analysis of this relation could yield new insights into the epistemic status of photography, I will expand on Walton’s remark in the three sections of this paper. First, I will provide a brief analysis of trust. Next, I will defend that basing beliefs on photographs requires trust. I will argue that trust is necessary because viewers are typically unable to assess whether a photograph meets the conditions required for accuracy. They can-not find out if these conditions are fulfilled by inspecting the photograph’s pictorial surface. Consequently, basing beliefs on photographs requires a ‘leap of faith’. In the last section, I will argue that this observation obliges us to reconsider an assumption that underlies many contemporary accounts of photography: That seeing a photograph of ‘p’ is a good reason to believe that ‘p’, but that seeing a handmade picture of ‘p’ is not a good reason to believe that ‘p’.

Allan Hazlett (University of Edinburgh)
‘Alief that Amounts to Knowledge’

Engaging with narrative fiction can often lead to the acquisition of knowledge, both significant (as when a work of fiction teaches an important moral lesson) and mundane (as when one learns about the geography of a city by consuming a realistic fiction that is set there).  In this sense, fiction is a source of knowledge.  One plausible account of how some fiction-based knowledge is acquired goes like this: fiction expands our moral imagination, allowing us the means to acquire moral knowledge that we previously lacked.  Another attractive model (which I’ve employed elsewhere) sees fiction-making as generating conversational implicatures: in virtue of mutually understood principles of “export,” consumers come to believe the implications of the fiction-maker.  Here I’ll explore a third model, which appeals to the notion of alief (a state which shares some of the cognitive and affective properties of belief, but which lacks belief’s practical aspect, and which is akin to imagination, pretense, and make-believe), and to the idea that engagement with fictions can involve alief in their contents.  On the present proposal, some instances of alief in fictional contents amount to knowledge, when said aliefs stand in the right relationship with the facts.  I’ll compare this model with the two aforementioned models, and I’ll introduce a broader project that understands knowledge as sometimes instantiated by instances of propositional attitudes other than belief, including alief and desire.

Eva-Maria Konrad (Regensburg)

There is widespread consensus that we can gain knowledge from literature. Nevertheless, there is an ongoing debate as to how this is possible considering the fact that the literary works in question are fictional. I will present a theory of fictionality that provides a solution to this perennial problem: compositionalism, as I will call this account, endorses factual discourse in fictional literature. I will have a closer look at how to define this theory of fictionality and why it is more adequate than competing approaches. Moreover, I aim at demonstrating how knowledge acquisition exactly works under these circumstances and how we can identify factual discourse in an overall fictional context.

Peter Lamarque (University of York)
‘How Fiction Shapes Belief’

The paper will explore the acquisition of beliefs from works of fiction at two levels: beliefs about the world of the fiction and derived beliefs about the world at large. Discussion of the first kind of beliefs will not centre on standard debates about “truth in fiction” and licenced inferences but on the idea of the “opacity of narrative”. This is the thought that the content of a work of fiction (the world, characters, depicted) is constituted by its mode of presentation. Content is identified not “transparently” through the narrative but opaquely in the narrative, under the perspective of narrative description. Beliefs about this content are “shaped” by these descriptions in a manner quite different from beliefs acquired from perception or even from more transparent (e.g. fact-based) narratives. This has consequences for the second kind of beliefs, those world-directed reflections derived from the first kind. These too are “opaque”. So although we appear to learn about the world from fiction, the relevant beliefs (and thoughts) lodge in our minds in a unique manner giving them a peculiar status in our epistemic economy.

Lucy O’Brien (University College London)
‘Novels as a Source of Self-Knowledge’

Novels are fictional accounts to a large extent unconstrained by the truth, and readers know that. Beliefs are attitudes governed by the norm that we should have them if, and only if, they are true. Nevertheless, we seem to come to have beliefs through reading novels. I want to consider two sorts of belief that we seem to form: factual beliefs, and beliefs about ourselves, and to argue that we can consistently form such beliefs, and take beliefs to be attitudes that we are supposed to have only if true. Novels can provide us with evidence both in their content, and in our reactions totheir content, that ground epistemically respectable beliefs. The focus of the talk will be on the case in which we form beliefs about myself, and on the role that reflections on our reactions to reading play in our coming to know who we are and what we think.

Jon Robson (University of Nottingham)
‘Against Aesthetic Exceptionalism’

In this paper I discuss a position I term ‘non-epistemic belief pessimism’ (NBP) according to which (i) aesthetic judgements are beliefs (ii) it is impermissible to form aesthetic judgements on the basis of testimony and (iii) the explanation for this impermissibility does not depend on the judgements in question violating any epistemic norms. I argue that this position faces a number of pressing objections relating to the nature of belief. Firstly, it proposes a fundamental difference between aesthetic beliefs and beliefs of other kinds without properly motivating this distinction. Secondly, and more fundamentally, NBP is in tension with the most promising contemporary accounts of the nature of belief. I will conclude, then, that – given that (iii) is presently accepted (with good reason) by those on all sides of the aesthetic testimony debate – we should conclude that at least one of (i) or (ii) is false.

Daniel Whiting (University of Southampton)
‘Rational Belief and Aesthetic Testimony’

Entering the station, a passer-by tells you that the train is delayed. On the basis of her testimony, you can come to know that the train is delayed. Entering the gallery, a passer-by tells you that the Hepworth sculptures are elegant. On the basis of her testimony, you cannot come to know that the Hepworth sculptures are elegant. Call the view that it is not possible to acquire aesthetic knowledge via testimony, pessimism. In this paper, I offer a novel argument for pessimism. The argument works by turning attention away from the basis of the relevant belief, namely, testimony, and toward what that belief in turn might provide a basis for, namely, other attitudes.

 James Young (University of Victoria)
‘Art, Perspectives, and Justified Beliefs’

Artworks contribute to the formation of beliefs but ought not to be regarded as forms of testimony. Artworks provide audiences with perspectives on the world that assist audience members in forming justified beliefs. An examination of the literature on psychology and art reveals that artworks can lead audience members to abandon stereotypes that hinder the formation of justified beliefs. Artworks can also contribute to the formation of justified beliefs by evoking memories and by acting on memories.

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