The Real, The Fictional and The Fake


real: actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact, objective, genuine, rightly so called, natural, sincere, not purely nominal or supposed or pretended or artificial or hypocritical or affected.

(Oxford English Dictionary)

For a while, as I mulled over Prof. Guglielminetti’s invitation to write a paper “about reality,” I felt somewhat at a loss. “What in the world isn’t real?” I wondered; and then, “Can I really write about everything—in 5,000 words or less?” I thought first of following up on earlier work in which I had focused on the use of “real” in which it contrasts with “imaginary, fictional, a figment,” by taking the opportunity to explore the more homely use in which “real” contrasts, instead, with “fake, fraudulent, imitation”; but I was concerned that this might prove to be an exercise of more lexicographical than philosophical interest—too limited a topic for the present occasion. I thought next of tackling a lingering difficulty I had encountered in that earlier work—that my thesis that, though there really are fictional characters, those fictional characters aren’t real, sounded more than a little paradoxical; but I was afraid that pulling at this loose end might call for radical revisions in my Innocent Realist metaphysics—too large a task for this occasion. But then I realized (whew!) that what was needed to dispel the air of paradox in my account of fictional characters was, precisely, to recognize a significant but rarely-noticed commonality between the metaphysical and the humdrum uses of “real”—that both are incomplete without a sortal term.

So I will first illustrate those two uses of “real”(§1); next, focusing on the metaphysical use in which “real” contrasts with “imaginary, fictional,” provide a kind of sketch-map that will, I hope, convey at least something of how rich and various reality is (§2); and then explore some of the twists and turns of which the imagination is capable (§3). This will reveal, however, that it’s not easy to articulate the ontological status of imagined animals, people, machines, etc., without falling into self-contradiction. And after all these preliminaries, I will finally be able to show that, once we notice that “real,” whether in its metaphysical or its more mundane sense, is short for “real X,” this difficulty dissolves (§4).

The Real, The Fictional and The Fake

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