Fictionalism is the view in philosophy according to which statements that appear to be descriptions of the world should not be construed as such, but should instead be understood as cases of "make believe", of pretending to treat something as literally true (a "useful fiction"). Two important strands of fictionalism are modal fictionalism developed by Gideon Rosen, which states that possible worlds, regardless of whether they exist or not, may be a part of a useful discourse, and mathematical fictionalism advocated by Hartry Field, which states that talk of numbers and other mathematical objects is nothing more than a convenience for doing science. Also in meta-ethics, there is an equivalent position called moral fictionalism (championed by Richard Joyce). Many modern versions of fictionalism are influenced by the work of Kendall Walton in aesthetics.
Fictionalism consists in at least the following three theses:
- Claims made within the domain of discourse are taken to be truth-apt; that is, true or false
- The domain of discourse is to be interpreted at face value—not reduced to meaning something else
- The aim of discourse in any given domain is not truth, but some other virtue(s) (e.g., simplicity, explanatory scope).
Modal fictionalism is a term used in philosophy, and more specifically in the metaphysics of modality, to describe the position that holds that modality can be analysed in terms of a fiction about possible worlds. The theory comes in two versions: Strong and Timid. Both positions were first exposed by Gideon Rosen starting from 1990.
Strong fictionalism about possible worlds
According to strong fictionalism about possible worlds (another name for strong modal fictionalism), the following bi-conditionals are necessary and specify the truth-conditions for certain cases of modal claims:
- It is possible that P iff the translation of P into the language of a fiction F (containing possible worlds) holds according to F.
- It is necessary that P iff the translation of P into the language of a fiction F (containing possible worlds) always holds.
Recent supporters of this view added further specifications of these bi-conditionals to counter certain objections. In the case of claims of possibility, the revised bi-conditional is thus spelled out: (1.1) it is possible that P iff At this universe, presently, the translation of P into the language of a fiction F holds according to F.
Timid fictionalism about possible worlds
According to a timid version of fictionalism about possible worlds, our possible worlds can be properly understood as involving reference to a fiction, but the aforementioned bi-conditionals should not be taken as an analysis of certain cases of modality.
Objections and criticisms
This objection can be spelled out in at least two ways: artificiality as contingency or artificiality as lack of accessibility.
- Hale dilemma
- Fictional fetishism