Cool Logic

Melina Mendoza (ILLC, Amsterdam)

Who is Sherlock Holmes?

September 30th at 18:30, in F1.15 seminar room

Who is Sherlock Holmes, and how the Canon can be used to identify fictional characters Abstract: Who is Sherlock Holmes? Can we even talk about identifying him? The often quoted example by Frege about identity “The evening star is the morning star” has the particularity that it refers to something that is actual and exists in the real world. If venus was fictional, could we still refer to it in the same way? What is true in a fiction to begin with? It can be said that it depends on the fictional context, or as we will refer to it, the Canon. In order to be able to even talk about Sherlock Holmes, some kind of ontology commitment needs to be made. Therefore we will embrace and define fictional realism and fictionalism in general in order to determine what is a fictional being. To talk about these beings, David Lewis' approach of having a modal operator is often used. But in this talk, a more pragmatic approach will be taken instead, and the power of the author and the consumer of fiction will be discussed in order to define what is true in fiction. The first hurdle is the fact that fiction is often indeterminate (either by accident or design), so certain sentences can be both true and false in a given fiction. But all fictions have a Canon, a set of rules of what is true. Using the fact that the author describes the world, the unique ability of a consumer of a fiction to reject facts about a given fiction (like Shiny vampires), and actually exploiting this indeterminacy, we will define in a more proper manner what a Canon is and therefore what can be true in a given fiction. Once we know what is true in a given fiction, is it possible to talk about identity of fictional characters? Identity cannot be defined in the same manner for real entities as with fictional entities, but in some cases it will be shown that some identities do stand. Sherlock Holmes is the man that lives in Baker street, plays the violin, is a detective, killed Cthulhu, jumped from St. Bart's hospital while talking on the phone with Watson, was in rehab and moved to New York, and got cellular rejuvenation in the 22th century in order to chase once again his arch-nemesis Moriarty. But well it all depends in what Canon of The private eye you're talking about. They are all Sherlock Holmes, in some Canons some are similar, in others they are not.