The failure of storytelling to ground a causal theory of reference



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Texas A&M University


I argue that one cannot hold a Meinongian ontology of fictional characters and have a causal theory of reference for fictional names. The main argument presented refutes Edward Zalta's claim that storytelling should be considered an extended baptism for fictional characters. This amounts to the claim that storytelling fixes the reference of fictional names in the same way that baptism fixes the reference of ordinary names, and this is just a claim about the illocutionary force of these two types of utterance. To evaluate this argument, therefore, we need both a common understanding of the Meinongian ontology and a common taxonomy of speech acts. I briefly sketch the Meinongian ontology as it is laid out by Zalta in order to meet the former condition. Then I present an interpretation of the taxonomy of illocutionary acts given by John Searle in the late 1970s and mid 1980s, within which we can evaluate Zalta's claims. With an ontology of fictional characters and a taxonomy of speech acts in place, I go on to examine the ways in which the Meinongian might argue that storytelling is an extended baptism. None of these arguments are tenable-there is no way for the act of storytelling to serve as an extended baptism. Therefore, the act of storytelling does not constitute a baptism of fictional characters; that is, storytelling fails to ground a causal chain of reference to fictional characters.