On truth and fiction

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Some philosophers have questioned the value of fiction and argued that the emotions it prompts are inappropriate because they are not about real people. Recent evidence indicates that engaging with fiction can enable important psychological effects. Fiction is about inner truth, truth of other minds and of one's own. The chapter proposes four bases for a psychology of fiction. (1) Fiction is not principally description but simulation of social worlds. (2) Fiction is an abstraction that develops from the imaginative activities of childhood play. (3) Empirically it has been found that reading fiction enables people to acquire better empathy and understandings of other minds. (4) Artistic fiction is a kind of indirect communication that enables people to change their selfhood by small amounts not by persuasion but in their own ways. These changes are mediated by the emotions readers experience as they put aside their own concerns and take on those of literary characters.




Oatley, K. (2017). On truth and fiction. In Cognitive Literary Science: Dialogues between Literature and Cognition (pp. 259–278). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190496869.003.0014

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