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Conference - Philo-Fiction

When Nov 30, 2017 02:30 PM to
Dec 02, 2017 01:00 PM
Where FRIAS, Albertstr. 19, seminar room
Contact Name
Contact Phone +49 (0)761 203-97362
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The conference Philo-Fiction aims to investigate the various roles and chief features of fictional reasoning in philosophy, from Arabic and Latin scholasticism to the present. At least six issues or approaches merit careful consideration. (1) In its most basic (and derogatory) meaning, “fiction” can be used as a rhetorical weapon for discrediting adverse theories as false. From the Middle Ages to Modernity, the term “fictitious” or “fiction” has often served as the final argument to reject a theory, when all further philosophical arguments had already been mobilized. (2) In the realm of philosophical polemics, philosophers also invented fictitious adversaries. They imagined “perfect” enemies for establishing their own theses by distinguishing them from allegedly erroneous attempts to construct reality or interpret authoritative sources. They searched for the truth by inventing and attacking bogus enemies. Thus, for instance, after the 11th century, particularly in discussions concerning the nature of good and evil, orthodox thinkers like al-Ghazālī would develop their positions in contradistinction to the Muʿtazila – a Muʿtazila, however, which had little to do with the actual historical school or sect. Similarly, in the second half of the 13th century Parisian theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon and Peter John Olivi, invented the so-called Averroists (Averroistae) and portrayed them as contemporary proponents of various dangerous and fallacious interpretations of Aristotle’s philosophy. In the 14th century, the clerical construction of the heresy of the Free Spirit served to incriminate as heretical the forms adopted by the spiritual quest of béguines close to Meister Eckhart. (3) Fictions can play a positive role in argumentation processes, be it as particular thought (or imaginary) experiments, such as Avicenna’s flying man or Hilary Putnam’s brain in a vat, or as more elaborate stories which provide a basis for constructing a comprehensive notion of philosophy. Thus, the story told by the 12th-century Andalusian Ibn Ṭufayl, which stages a self-taught philosopher, can be seen as a masterpiece of the second category. (4) Myths played various roles in the frame of philosophy, from Plato’s mythology to modern utopias. While Platonic myths served as narrative analogies, that is, as tools for analysis and explanation, modern utopias chiefly functioned as anticipations: simulations as well as stimulations for political changes. (5) Counterfactual reasoning, the fifth category of philosophical fictions that will be addressed by Philo-Fiction, encompasses argumentations of the form “Would P be the case, if x had not done or been y?”, for example, “If Adam had not sinned, would he have had children and would he and his children have been immortal?” This form of fictional reasoning is used in particular to test the robustness of theories – their applicability to other possible worlds – and thus define their realm of validity. (6) Finally, at a metadiscursive level, philosophical systems were often seen and described as fictions, grand narratives and constructions of truth and reality, especially in the 20th century. In Metahistory (first published in 1973) Hayden White describes the major 19th-century philosophies as discursive devices; he thus identifies for each of them a rhetorical trope which serves as its organizational or structural principle.


Prof. Dr. Najda Germann, Philosophy, University of Freiburg

PD Dr. Catherine König-Pralong, Philosophy, University of Freiburg