I have a (true) thought that Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street. But what is this thought about? Is it about Sherlock Holmes? If so, is it about something that doesn’t exist? Can we really have thoughts about non-existent objects? What makes those thoughts true or false, if there is no object for the thought’s content to correspond to?
Philosopher Michael Hicks distinguishes fiction-directed thought from world-directed thought. A fiction-directed thought is knowingly about fiction; it is a kind of pretense. It is crucial that thoughts about fictional entities be fiction-directed. If if I think my “thought” about Sherlock Holmes is about a real person – in other words, if it is world-directed – then I don’t have a thought at all, because the ostensive object of my thought does not exist. According to Hicks, world-directed thought is “environment dependent”. It takes the intentional state and the object of the intentional state to make a thought. If the latter is missing, then there is no thought. Thoughts about fictional entities, as well as about hallucinations and other non-existent objects, must be fiction-directed in order to qualify as thoughts. Put another way, thought about fiction only successfully happens when we play a game of pretense set up by the author.
Be sure to listen to part 1 of this interview first.
If you’re interested in the metaphysics of thought, I discuss higher-order thoughts in this interview with David Rosenthal.…