PHIL 401 A: Advanced Topics In Philosophy

Meeting Time: 
W 2:30pm - 4:20pm
Location: 
SAV 157
SLN: 
18882
Instructor:
Michael A. Rosenthal

Syllabus Description:

PHIL 401A Undergraduate Capstone Seminar: Fictions and Fictionalism (Winter Quarter, 2019)
Wednesdays 2:30-4:20pm (Savery 157)
Prof. Michael Rosenthal
Office: Savery M382
Phone: (206) 685-2655
E-mail: rosentha@uw.edu
Office Hours: Tuesdays 2-3pm; Wednesdays 11am-12pm; and by appointment.
Home Web Page: https://phil.washington.edu/people/michael-rosenthal
Course Canvas Site: https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1258523

COURSE DESCRIPTION

This course will examine the philosophy of fictions and fictionalism. Fictions are statements that are not true in the sense that they correspond to objects that exist independently of the discourse in which they are found. Fictionalism is the idea that we either do or should apply the analysis of fictions to other discursive domains that are not explicitly fictional. We will discuss the nature of fiction, the idea of fictionalism, and various attempts to explain the ontology of both, such as Meinongianism (i.e., the theory of non-existent objects) and the doctrine of possible worlds. We will then consider how some philosophers have used this analysis to understand art, science, and social life (law and politics). We will also read some recent work on this theme by the German philosopher, Markus Gabriel, who will be visiting the UW at the end of the quarter and hopefully will visit our class to discuss his work with us. This will be a writing-intensive course. You will write weekly short essays (2-3 pages) and then a longer paper (12-15 pages). You will develop the longer paper over the course and will be required to rewrite a draft after having received comments from the instructor and one fellow student.

ASSIGNMENTS AND GRADING

A total of 400 points are possible in this class. The weekly essays and comment are worth 125 points and all the components of the final essay are worth 275 points. A scale will be distributed in class as a guideline. Final grades will be determined on the basis of this scale and adjustment in terms of overall class performance.

1. Weekly Essays. a) At the end of class on each Wednesday I will make available on Canvas the topic for the following week’s essay.  I will distribute an essay topic, which will focus on a particular issue or argument in the text.  Each student must write a short (around 2-3 page) essay on the topic, due by 12pm on Monday, which should be submitted to the appropriate assignment page on the course Canvas webpage.

The paper will be graded as unsatisfactory (5 points), satisfactory (8 points), or good (10 points). There will be nine occasions to turn in an essay. Late papers will be automatically graded as worth 5 points. You will be given 10 points for just showing up the first week. A total of 100 points will be possible for this assignment.

b) Each week one paper will be the topic of discussion. Each student in the class will choose one week in the quarter in which he or she will be responsible to discuss his or her paper. This paper will be circulated to the other students before class and all class members will be responsible for reading it.

Another student ("the discussant") each week will be assigned the task of critiquing the assigned paper. The discussant will be responsible for analyzing the philosophical content of the essay (i.e., the interpretation of the relevant passages, argument, objections, etc.). The discussant will summarize his or her comments in writing (about one page in length) and at the end of class will give a copy to both the author of the essay and the professor. All other students are also expected to have read the chosen essay and be ready to discuss it in depth. Completion of this task is worth a maximum of 15 points.

2. Final Essay. Each student will be required to write a twelve to fifteen page essay on a topic of his or her choice. This essay will not be written the night before it is due! All parts of this assignment should be electronically uploaded to the appropriate assignment page on the course Canvas site. The following is the schedule of assignments each student must meet to pass this requirement.

a) Topic Statement with Annotated Bibliography. Due Tuesday, February 19th (Week 7). You must turn in a brief statement of the projected topic of the paper that states: i) the problem you propose to discuss; ii) your tentative thesis; and iii) a brief sketch of the argument you will make. In addition, I expect an annotated bibliography that cites at least three sources (books, articles, etc.) with a brief presentation of how the author in each case addresses your proposed topic (i.e., brief outline of the argument, interpretation, etc.). Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 25 points.

b) Outline. Due Monday, February 25th (Week 8). You must turn in a complete outline of your paper. It is to include: i) a full presentation of your topic (including problem and thesis); ii) a detailed, point by point, presentation of your argument (including references to the specific primary and secondary texts that support your points); iii) possible objections to your argument; iv) your response to the objections; and v) conclusion. Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 25 points.

c) Preliminary Draft and Abstract. Due Monday, March 4th (Week 9). This should be a complete draft of your essay. Please hand in two copies. At the same time, you must also turn in an abstract of your essay (one page or less in length). This should be a summary of your thesis, argument, and conclusion. Make enough copies of your abstract to distribute one to each of your fellow students and one to me. Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 100 points.

d) Comments. Due Friday, March 8th. You will be given the preliminary draft one of your fellow student's essays upon which you will be expected to comment in depth. I expect comments on both the style and the content of the essay. These are to be both critical and constructive comments: How can the essay be improved? You are to write up your comments, which should be no more than two pages and no less than one page in length (double-spaced). Make two copies of your comments; send one of them to me and the other to the author via e-mail. Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 35 points.

e) Paper Conference. March 11th [3:30-5:20pm in Savery 162]. The conference will be devoted to a presentation and discussion of paper topics. Each author will give a five-minute, prepared presentation of his or her paper. This need not be a summary (each student will already have read the abstract) but might focus on one or two key points. The assigned commentator will then give a five minute response, in which he or she will address the points raised by the author's presentation or some other interesting aspect of the paper. There will then be time for questions and reactions from the other students. Participation in the paper conference is worth a maximum of 25 points.

f) Final Draft. Due Friday, March 15th, at noon. In your final draft I expect you to revise your essay in light of all the comments (both regarding style and content) you received. Of course you are not restricted to these comments alone. In the two weeks between handing in the preliminary and final draft, you will hopefully be thinking yourself how to improve the final product. Grading of the final draft will be based on both the quality of the completed work and also the extent to which you have improved the rough draft. Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 75 points.

For each day that you are late in completing any one of the requirements of the final essay, your grade will automatically be reduced by 10 points.

3. Participation. I expect all students to participate actively in class discussion. In determining your final grade, especially if it is on a borderline, I will consider the quality of your regular participation, and improvement over the semester. In other words, I reserve the right to adjust the final grade above or below what is indicated by your final point score on the basis of participation and effort.

Nota Bene: (1) Cheating in any form (including plagiarism, of course) will result in automatic referral to the Dean’s office. You are assumed to understand the university rules concerning inappropriate academic conduct. Please see the Student code and the following website for information: https://depts.washington.edu/grading/pdf/AcademicResponsibility.pdf. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the instructor.

(2) In order to pass this course students are required to: a) have enough total points (i.e., at least 212 points); and also b) receive passing grades in both major components of the course, i.e., at least 67 points in the weekly writing assignments (including comments), and at least 146 points total from the various components of the final essay. If you have enough total points to pass but do not receive pass both the weekly assignments and the final essay you will fail the course. Absolutely no exceptions will be made to this policy.

Disabled Student Services. If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disability Resources for Students, 011 Mary Gates Hall, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY). Here is a link to their website: http://depts.washington.edu/uwdrs/. If you have a letter from DRS indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me at the beginning of the course so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.

BOOKS

The following primary texts are required and are available for purchase in the UW Bookstore:

Gabriel, Markus. Why the World Does Not Exist. Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2015. (Paperback: ISBN-10: 0745687571)

Sainsbury, R. M. Fiction and Fictionalism. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. (Paperback: ISBN 9780415774352)

Searle, John. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: The Free Press, 1995. (Paperback: ISBN-10: 9780684831794)

Vaihinger, Hans. The Philosophy of “As If”. Translated by C. K. Ogden. London: Routledge, originally published 1924, reprinted 2009. (Paperback: ISBN 9780415488228)

Walton, Kendall. Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 1993. (Paperback: ISBN 9780674576032)

The following text is recommended:

Kalderon, Mark Eli. Fictionalism in Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. (Paperback: ISBN: 9780199282197)

I will also place the books on reserve at Odegaard Library. Some texts (as noted below) will be available in electronic form in the “Files” tab of the course Canvas page.

CLASS SCHEDULE AND TOPICS

Week 1 – Introduction: What is a Fiction? (January 9th)

We will introduce the philosophical problem of fictions. What is a fiction and how is it different from non-fiction? What are we talking about when we talk about characters like Sherlock Holmes? In what sense are they real? If they are not real, then what are they? Can we learn something from what might not be real? We will touch on some of the key issues that we will explore in more depth in subsequent weeks. For example, we will discuss how to define the linguistic aspect of fiction and the metaphysical implications, if any, of these definitions.

Readings: Sainsbury, chapter 1; Walton, chapter 2; also Currie, selections from The Nature of Fiction (PDF on Canvas).

 

Week 2 – The Philosophy of “As If” (January 16th)

This week we will discuss the book, The Philosophy of ‘As If’ by the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, which is arguably the first book that developed the modern notion of fictionalism, that is the idea that we should treat conceptual assertions in a variety of contexts like we do in fiction properly speaking. Vaihinger also tried to anchor his views in the history of philosophy, particularly in his reading of Kant. We will discuss his basic ideas, their relation to the history of philosophy, and his taxonomy of fictions.

Readings: Vaihinger, pages 1-77, 135-156; Sainsbury, chapter 7; Rosen, chapter 1 in Kalderon.

 

Week 3 – What is Fictionalism? (January 28th)

[Please note that due to a professional travel commitment, we will need to reschedule the class of Wednesday, January 23rd. It is now scheduled on Monday, January 28th.]

Fictionalism is the idea that we do and we should apply the kind of discourse we use in the case of fictions to other domains of inquiry and practice like science, morality, or law. We will discuss the difference between so-called “hermeneutic” fictionalism, in which it is a matter of fact that we interpret the key elements of a particular discourse as we do fictions, and “revolutionary” fictionalism, in which it is claimed that we do not yet but should interpret the discourse as a fiction.

Readings: Sainsbury, chapter 2; Searle, selections from The Social Construction of Reality (possibly chapters 1-3).

 

Week 4 – The Ontology of Fictions and Fictionalism (January 30th)

We will examine several theories about the existence or non-existence of fictional objects. We will look at the doctrine of “Meinongianism,” the view that there are non-existent objects. We will discuss whether fictional objects are real or irreal. We will look briefly at the doctrine of “possibilism” and its critics, such as Saul Kripke. We will look in particular at David Lewis’s defense of this doctrine in his formulation of the theory of possible worlds.

Readings: Sainsbury, chapters 3-4; Alexius Meinong, selections from On Assumptions (PDF on Canvas), W.O. Quine, “On What There Is” (PDF on Canvas); David Lewis, “Truth in Fiction” (PDF on Canvas); John Searle, selections from The Social Construction of Reality (possibly chapters 7-8).

Week 5 – Fictions in Art: the Role of Props and Make-Believe (February 6th)

This week we will focus on the main claim of Kendall Walton’s book, Mimesis and Make Believe, namely, that a fiction is a prop in service of constructing a make-believe world. We will discuss this idea against the background of our discussion of the ontology of fictions, but we will focus on the implications of this view for art, whether literary or plastic. We will also consider some problems in his view; for instance, how fictional art can generate emotions in its readers or viewers.

Readings: Walton, chapter 1-2, 5 and 7.

 

Week 6 – Fictions in Science (February 13th)

One of the most important areas in which fictionalism has been adopted and used is in the philosophy of science. Vaihinger was particularly interested in the fact that ideas of objects (concrete or abstract) that do not really exist can nonetheless be very useful in explanation. More recently, philosophers of science like Arthur Fine and Bas van Fraasen have revived some key elements of Vaihinger’s account.

Readings: Arthur Fine, “Fictionalism” (PDF posted on Canvas); Vaihinger, pages 78-134; selections from Bas van Fraasen, The Scientific Image (PDF posted on Canvas).

 

Week 7 – Moral Fictionalism (February 20th)

The recent trend in moral philosophy has been to assert that value terms like “good” or “bad” are real in some sense. However, there is a counter-current that argues that the best way to make sense of moral terms is that they are fictions, which are not true but useful. One of the most influential precursors to this view is John Mackie, whose “error” theory of morals has a lot in common with moral fictionalism, even if it does not call itself by that name. We will also discuss more explicit theorists of this view, such as Joyce and Kalderon.

Readings: Sainsbury, chapter 9; selections from John Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (PDF file on Canvas); Joyce, chapter 9 in Kalderon.

 

Week 8 – Social and Political Fictions (February 27th)

There is a long history of the use of fictions in actual political practice and in the construction of theories about politics. We will look at Jeremy Bentham’s critique of the idea of legal fictions and Hans Vaihinger’s analysis of his view. We will also read more of the work of a recent philosopher, John Searle, whose book, The Social Construction of Reality, is arguably a fictionalist account of the social world in which we live.

Readings: Bentham, selections; Vaihinger, pages 33-35, 184-88; Searle, chapters 4-5.

 

Week 9 – Neo-Existentialism (March 6th)

Many philosophers not only in the analytic tradition but also in the so-called “continental” style of doing philosophy have become interested in the problems of fiction. This week we will read some of the recent work of Markus Gabriel, who works across these two traditions. We will also have the luck to meet with him in person and discuss his work when he visits the UW this week.

Readings: Gabriel, Why the World Does Not Exist, chapters 1-3; Gabriel, “On Fictional Objects” (Word file on Canvas).

 

Week 10 – Paper Conference (please note the date: Monday, March 11th)

Additional Details:

Topic: Fiction and Fictionalism. This course will examine the philosophy of fiction and fictionalism.  Fictions are statements that are not true in the sense that they correspond to objects that exist independently of the discourse in which they are found. Fictionalism is the idea that we either do or should apply the analysis of fictions to other discursive domains that are not explicitly fictional. We will discuss the nature of fiction, the idea of fictionalism, and various attempts to explain the ontology of both, such as Meinongianism (i.e., the theory of non-existent objects) and the doctrine of possible worlds. We will then consider how some philosophers have used this analysis to understand art, science, and social life (law and politics). We will also read some recent work on this theme by the German philosopher, Markus Gabriel, who will be visiting the UW at the end of the quarter and hopefully will visit our class to discuss his work with us. This will be a writing-intensive course. You will write weekly short essays (2-3 pages) and then a longer paper (12-15 pages). You will develop the longer paper over the course and will be required to rewrite a draft after having received comments from the instructor and one fellow student.

TEXTS: Why the World Does Not Exist, Markus Gabriel; Fiction and Fictionalism, R.M. Sainsbury; The Construction of Social Reality, John Searle; The Philosophy of “As If”, Hans Vaihinger; Mimesis as Make-Believe, Kendall Walton.

Catalog Description: 
A study of philosophical topics at the advanced level. Topics vary.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Credits: 
5.0
Status: 
Active
Last updated: 
October 30, 2018 - 4:52pm