Monday, August 28, 2006

Literary pseudo-objects

"Similarly, to maintain that Hamlet, for example, exists in his own world, namely, in the world of Shakespeare's imagination, just as truly as (say) Napoleon existed in the ordinary world, is to say something deliberately confusing, or else confused to a degree which is scarcely credible. There is only one world, the 'real' world: Shakespeare's imagination is part of it, and the thoughts that he had in writing Hamlet are real. So are the thoughts that we have in reading the play. But it is of the very essence of fiction that only the thoughts, feelings, etc., in Shakespeare and his readers are real, and that there is not, in addition to them, an objective Hamlet. When you have taken account of all the feelings roused by Napoleon in writers and readers of history, you have not touched the actual man; but in the case of Hamlet you have come to the end of him. If no one thought about Hamlet, there would be nothing left of him; if no one had thought about Napoleon, he would have soon seen to it that some one did. The sense of reality is vital in logic, and whoever juggles with it by pretending that Hamlet has another kind of reality is doing a disservice to thought. A robust sense of reality is very necessary in framing a correct analysis of propositions about unicorns, golden mountains, round squares, and other pseudo-objects"

(from Russell, Bertrand. Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. London: Allen and Unwin, 1919)

1 comment:

J said...

there is a serious point raised by Russell here, however bo-ring it may be to the NW hepcats. Are there aesthetic truths (say the "truth" of Hamlet) in the way there are say truths of natural sciences or truths arrived at in calculus or formal logic? The traditional "epistemological" divide is between analytical truth (pertaining to mathematics and formal logic–deductive) and synthetic truth (inductive knowledge based on inference and observation: biology, chemistry, physics, as well as social sciences). Leibniz, one of the founders of integral calc. along with Newton, made this distinction: and Russell was quite aware of Leibnizian thought. Where does artistic/aesthetic knowledge (not to say theology/mysticism) fall on this divide then? Not easily placed, but most would say it is closer to induction or psychology, than to deduction. But the play Hamlet offers no facts; it is not history, tho it may have a few historical references. IN some sense then Russell reaffirming a rather classical and skeptical view of aesthetic claims: indeed PLato in the Republic himself bans the lyric poet from the ideal state

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