Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Commitment Without Consequences. A Carnapian Approach to Fictional Objects and Negative Existence Statements

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posted on 2021-12-08, 17:31 authored by Michael Gilchrist

The overall aim of this thesis is to present a fresh perspective on three closely related areas of enquiry: Descriptivist theories of reference, Direct Reference theories and the Carnapian approach to questions of existence and identity. This perspective is developed and tested by a critical analysis of the work of a leading Carnapian theorist, Amie Thomasson, and by looking at some of the central problems associated with our talk of fictional objects. It concludes in an account of negative existence statements and fictional objects as possibly existing objects. In Chapter one I set out the key elements of Carnap’s approach, as that approach was developed over time and in dialogue with his colleague Quine. In Chapter two I explore the relation between the previously mentioned three areas of enquiry through an examination of Amie Thomasson’s brand of Carnapian meta-ontology. In Chapters four and five I develop the view that fictional objects are objects that meet the criteria of existence and identity of at least one linguistic framework but fail to meet the criteria of another, preferred framework. This provides the basis for a neo-Carnapian account of fictional objects in terms of the relations between linguistic frameworks, a novel approach to the questions surrounding such objects. In chapter five, the concluding chapter of the thesis, I further develop my explanation of how there can be truths about fictional and non-existent objects by giving an ontological version of John MacFarlane’s relativity principle. This paves the way for a neo-Carnapian analysis of true negative existence statements. Here I integrate the story I have told about fictional objects and the relations between linguistic frameworks with theories of reference and meaning. In particular, I incorporate a satisfactory concept of the rigid designation of ordinary proper names (and, potentially, of natural and artefactual kind terms). This then leads on to an explanation of how fictional objects, contra Kripke and many others, may reasonably said to be possible objects that, though they don’t exist, might exist under different circumstances.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure Basic Research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Maslen, Cei; Brock, Stuart