At the recent International Medieval Congress earlier this month, I was posting photos of books I’d bought on FB every evening:
I was quite excited about a book I’d never hard of before, in my first day’s haul, looked really interesting: Virginie Greene’s Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy. Amusingly, one of the first comments was a friend saying he’d be interested in what I thought of it, and reminding me that he’d mentioned it to me some months previously….oops! Too many books, not enough brain space.
In any case, I have the book now, and I’m quite interested in reading through it. What I thought I would do is a bit of a live reading/commentary/review of the book on this blog, over the next couple of weeks.
To start off, the basic details:
Virginie Greene, Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy, (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
Table of contents:
- Abelard’s donkey: the nonexistent particular
- The literate animal: naming and reference
- The fox and the unicorn: naming and existence
- The opponent
- The fool who say no to God
- The fool who says no to reason
- Aristotle or the founding son
- Abelard or the fatherless son
- The dialectics of friendship
(Plus introduction, conclusion, notes, bibliography, and index.)
Now, on to the commentary!
In the introduction, Greene sets up a contrast between logic, meant to instruct, and fiction, meant to entertain, and who better to illustrate this constant than Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson? It’s no accident, Greene wants to argue (pp. 1–2), that Holmes is a perennial touchstone in philosophical accounts of problems of fiction. (Indeed, as I often lament to my students, if you read classical philosophy of fiction, especially that bit of it interested in questions of language and ontology, you might come away with the forgivably understanding that the only fictional objects out there are Santa Claus, Pegasus, and Sherlock Holmes.) This is due (in part) to the fact that “analytic philosophers do not include literary criticism in their discussion of fiction” (p. 2), so they can be completely comfortable in their very narrow view of what fiction is and what it can contribute to philosophical discourse.
Greene comes to the topic of logical fictions (paradoxes, puzzles, nonexistent objects, etc.) from the side of literary criticism, not logic or philosophy, but to be fair she notes that “literary scholars are generally not interested in what analytic philosophers have to say about fiction” (p. 2). Given this state of things, Greene’s attempt to bridge this gap is admirable, and makes me excited to see whether she’s successful, or whether her lack of background in analytic philosophy and logic will let her down in her analysis of the logical content of the medieval texts. The remainder of the introduction is a summary of the various chapters, each of which is just detailed enough to both tempt me and worry me.
Next post: Chapter 1.