P. Lamarque

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Lamarque. 
My personal comments are in red. 

Lamarque's focus is literature.
However, what he says applies equally well to any art that portrays fictional characters or a persona. Lamarque often talks about fear and pity, because Aristotle famously argues that tragic art arouses those two emotions. So Lamarque is discussing a version of "arousal theory."

THE PROBLEM: We emotionally respond to literary fictions. However, this is paradoxical. Most of us know that the fiction is a fiction, and that no REAL issues/threats/problems are portrayed. Yet we also feel FEAR. How can we feel fear if we believe no one is threatened?

SOLUTION: The paradox disappears when we get clear about the object of the emotion.

To explain his idea, Lamarque responds to Kendall Walton's theory of fiction & make-believe. Walton: When we respond to a fiction, we make-believe that something is taking place (it is taking place "in the fiction"), and we also make-believe that we are responding emotionally (our emotion is also "in the fiction"). There is no real fear. There is, fictionally, fear. Sometimes we really respond (e.g., our hearts pound), but this physical reaction is not real emotion. It is quasi-emotion. It has some features of emotion without actually being one.

  • Walton thinks that, like entering into a GAME, we enter into a fictional world and our responses take place "in" that world.

  • Lamarque thinks that the "fictional characters" enter OUR world, the real world.  LITERALLY, what enters our world is a DESCRIPTION, and it enters our minds.

Descriptions are of two kinds: Propositional and predicative.

BELIEFS require propositional description.  You can't believe "is square." You can believe "the buttons on the phone are square." THOUGHTS don't require belief. So you can respond to a thought without having to believe.  Lamarque is saying that we don't respond emotionally to fictional characters, but rather we have THOUGHTS that generate emotions. So we can think about characters without believing any of it.

THESIS: Thoughts can be the objects of emotions. Thoughts are intentional (as opposed to real) objects. (Collingwood would say "imaginary" instead of "intentional") Intentional objects are the object of some emotions. The mere thought that Santa is bringing presents can cause excitement. A REAL Santa isn't necessary. The emotion is caused by the thought.

The THOUGHT that someone innocent will be harmed can be enough to make us feel real pity; the description of the innocent person and her fate is the object of the pity.

This point is only interesting in the case where we do not believe in something, yet the thought of us generates an emotion. Ordinarily, our thoughts align with our beliefs, and we don't need to point out that it's the THOUGHT, not the belief, that generates the emotion.

Additional thesis: The more detailed the thought and the greater the imaginative involvement, the stronger the emotional response. This is real emotion, not quasi-emotion.

Notice that fictional characters are something in the real world: they are sets of descriptive sentences. Desdemona is fictional, but the name refers to something "real," in that there's a genuine description for that character. The correct description is established by particular works of fiction.

CRUCIAL POINT: Knowing about a fictional character requires the acquisition of certain thoughts. The fictional narrative supplies the information, which we normally supplement with our own information. We respond to Shakespeare by "filling in" many thoughts.

Peter Kivy: This still doesn't get us a theory that makes sense of emotional responses to instrumental music. Even if you think of a persona, and fill in a lot of information, you end up filling in so much that two listeners cannot be claimed to be responding the SAME character. Here, your failure to respond can't be held against you. With Shakespeare, it's quite different. If you LAUGHT at Desdemona's situation instead of pitying her, your response is inappropriate. Not so with the supposed persona of a symphony.


                        Last updated Feb. 2, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk