Truth in Fiction, Jean-Pierre Dupuy, French Department and, by courtesy, Political Science Department, Symbolic Systems Forum

Sponsored by Symbolic Systems Program


Thursday, March 6, 2008
4:15 pm –
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380-380C (Math Corner)

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Why is it that for many of us some fictional characters have more reality and play a more important role in our lives than real persons? In some extreme cases, it may seem to us that our very life is inscribed in such or such fiction that has impressed us most.

One thing is certain: you won't find the answers to these disturbing questions in the seminal paper published by David K. Lewis in 1983, “Truth in Fiction”, which remains the Bible of analytic philosophy of fiction. Lewis analyzes the kind of convention that binds the narrator and the reader (or spectator). He admits to the existence of cases in which the narrator breaks the convention. About those cases, which represent arguably the essence of literature (or film), Lewis has, by his own admission, no solution to offer.

The talk will propose a radically different interpretation of truth in fiction, illustrated by the analysis of Jorge Luis Borges' Fictions, Camus' The Stranger, Hitchcock's Vertigo, Ian McEwan's Atonement and a few other classic masterpieces.

The talk will be self-contained, even for those who haven't read or seen the classics in question. They must promise not to be mad at the speaker for spoiling their pleasure if, on hearing the talk, they rush out to buy the books or the DVDs.


Jean-Pierre Dupuy is Professor of philosophy, École Polytechnique, Paris, and founding director of C.R.E.A. (Centre de Recherche en Épistémologie Appliquée), the philosophical research group of the École Polytechnique, and Full Professor (1/3rd time), Departments of French and, by courtesy, Political Science, Stanford University. He is also a Stanford C.S.L.I. Researcher, and is affiliated with the Stanford Science, Technology, and Society Program, the Symbolic Systems Forum, the Anthropology Department, and the Religious Studies Department. He is a member of the French Academy of Technology.

Discussion to follow, with refreshments.

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