Non-existence: error and fiction


Papers submission deadline: 30th April 2021

Extended Abstracts submission deadline: 15th October 2020


Non-existence: error and fiction

In philosophy of language and mind has become canonic to distinguish, following Keith Donnellan, two ways of talking and thinking of what-does-not-exist, i.e. ‘error’ and ‘fiction’.

The basic difference, we might say, is a cognitive one, insofar as while in the ‘error case’ the subject is not aware of the non-existing nature of what he or she is thinking or speaking of, in the ‘fiction case’ the subject knowingly refers, or purports to refer, to something that does not exist. In view of this, it is possible to distinguish thoughts and propositions about, say, ‘Santa Claus’ from those which are about, say, ‘Vulcan’, i.e. the planet that was (erroneously) supposed to exist, but in fact does not.

So far so good. However, further clarifications are required.

1. For instance, it might be argued that although surely there is such a cognitive distinction between ‘error case’ and ‘fiction case’, however it is not clear if and how such a distinction should or could affect the ontological status of the objects entertained by those thoughts: that is, ‘Santa Claus’ and ‘Vulcan’ seem to share the same ontological status. And assuming they do so, what is the ontological status of ‘Santa Claus’? And how does it affect the cognitive role of propositions about them?

2. Alternatively, it might be asked if and how this picture can actually account for illusions and hallucinations occurring in perceptual states.

3. Further, many things we intuitively take as existing in some way or another might actually fall under the category of ‘non-existing objects’, insofar as they elude our ontological commitment. For example, if my ontology is exclusively committed to object existing in space and time, what is the ontological status of universals? Do they fall under fiction or error? And if they don’t, how can they be accounted for?

4. Overall, is this twofold distinction really exhaustive?

5. Finally, there is the issue of negative existentials which has always been one of the favorite topics in philosophy. What is involved in denying that something exists? And in erroneously denying that something exists? Assuming the cognitive distinction between ‘error’ and ‘fiction’, negative existentials, where I am denying that something exists because I know that it doesn’t, should fall under the latter category. However, is this perspective truly satisfying?

These are some – obviously not all – questions that can legitimately arise concerning non-existence.

We are looking for contributions on these and other topics related to non-existence. In accordance with Synthesis’ spirit, contributions are expected to provide a theoretical analysis by assuming both synchronic and diachronic perspectives: that is, since the problem of ‘non-existence’, ‘error’ and ‘fiction’ is everything but new, it can be illuminating to consider the forms that it assumed in different philosophers in different historical contexts (through, for example, a comparison between two authors who have lived in even distant periods or by focusing on the historical dependence of one position on another or by examining the theoretical value of a past philosophical reflections and their significance for the ongoing debates, and so on). The aim is to put different philosophers and different historical perspectives in dialogue in order to shed new light on this matter.

Papers should be submitted by 30th April 2021. However, a first selection will be done on Extended Abstracts. Extended Abstracts should be sent by 15th October 2020. Decision notifications on Extended Abstracts will be sent by 15th November 2020.

Please check the Submission page for details on format and authors’ submission guidelines.