The literary historian Luiz Costa Lima has argued that prior to the invention of fiction, narratives were largely measured against one overriding standard: the perceived truthfulness of their relation to the world. That truth was often a moral or theological one, and to the extent that narratives related the deeds of men, proximity to an image of virtue or holiness would be considered worthy of imitation, and distance from it worthy of opprobrium.Shifting from "perceived truthfulness" to "truth" (when what seems to be meant is "truth", not truth) is shifty, and the kind of either sloppiness or playfulness that encourages others to regard literary theory as providing fun but not knowledge.
This is much better:
For a prose narrative to be fictional it must be written for a reader who knows it is untrue and yet treats it for a time as if it were true. The reader knows, in other words, not to apply the traditional measure of truthfulness for judging a narrative; he or she suspends that judgment for a time, in a move that Samuel Taylor Coleridge popularized as “the willing suspension of disbelief,” or “poetic faith.” Another way of putting this is to say that a reader must be able to occupy two opposed identities simultaneously: a naïve reader who believes what he is being told, and a savvy one who knows it is untrue.Compare Davidson on metaphor:
The most obvious semantic difference between simile and metaphor is that all similes are true and most metaphors are false. The earth is like a floor, the Assyrian did come down like a wolf on the fold, because everything is like everything. But turn these sentences into metaphors, and you turn them false; the earth is like a floor, but it is not a floor; Tolstoy, grown up, was like an infant, but he wasn’t one.Most fiction is false, but not all of it. There are novels closely based on fact, after all, and at least some sentences in such novels are probably quite true. This might seem to be a difference between metaphors and novels though:
But a) is this claim of Davidson's really true?, and b) don't novels do something like this as well? Metaphors do not usually make us attend to the likeness they imply. "All the world's a stage" might make us stop and think about how life is like a play, but "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life" does not, surely, make us stop and think about how similar something (what?) is to dust. Maybe that's a sign that this isn't a good metaphor, but then most metaphors are not likely to be very good. What I want to say is this: most metaphors do not make us attend to a likeness in the sense of stopping and thinking about it. Shakespeare's do not do that. If they did, we would not be able to follow the plays. Usually we take metaphors in our stride, which is a point I think Davidson himself makes. Metaphors show or present things in a certain way, as like this or that, but we see without having to stop and make out what we are being shown. And novels do something similar. They show us the world as being like this, like themselves.A metaphor makes us attend to some likeness, often a novel or surprising likeness, between two or more things
There is at most one world, as Davidson has said, so fictional claims about what happened (i.e. what we typically get in novels) are not about some other world. They are false claims about this world. (I realize that this is, shall we say, an odd thing to say, but I'm trying to speak Davidsonian here.) But we all know that they are false, so they aren't lies or mistakes. They are like the sentence "Jones is a pig," metaphorical. Being false, I suppose that novels don't provide us with knowledge in any obvious or simple sense. But can't it be true that Jones is a pig? Must we think that such expressions are nothing but fun ways of saying things that ought to be expressed without metaphor? We can think that, I think, but to do so is to insist on using only a very limited range of linguistic possibilities. Why would we do that? It seems very much like the insanity that Chesterton sees in materialism:
As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman's argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out... His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cogwheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world. Somehow his scheme, like the lucid scheme of the madman, seem unconscious of the alien energies and the large indifference of the Earth...I don't know how to argue about such things though. Egginton is responding to Alex Rosenberg's appalling defense of naturalism. (I don't mean that Rosenberg argued appallingly badly but that the view he defends is appalling. Witness the appalled reactions here.) It's like Schopenhauer's contrasting of two nothings:
we freely acknowledge that what remains after the entire abolition of will is, for all those who are still full of will, certainly nothing; but conversely, to those in whom the will has turned and has denied itself, this our world which is so real, with all its suns and Milky Ways, is nothing.What apparently appears as nothing to Rosenberg (nothing but fun, at least) seems like pretty much everything to me. And what seems like everything to him is as nothing to me. But perhaps I'm exaggerating, blinded by the worst things Rosenberg says.