Mental Theorizing about Fictional Characters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mindreading is the ability to attribute mental states to others and predict their behavior. Mindreading is commonplace in our daily lives, as well as our engagements with fictions. In this paper, I provide an account of how we mindread fictional entities that draws upon a version of theory-theory (TT). TT states that we attribute mental states through a process of inference-drawing from tacit folk psychological knowledge about mental states and information about our current environment and then conclude that the target must think or feel a certain way. Philosophers of art seldom argue in favor of TT. My opinion is that TT does not appeal to those trying to explain fictional mindreading because it does not explicitly make use of the imagination or imaginary mental states. Moreover, TT faces several standard objections that philosophers of art have taken to heart. Most significantly, it is argued that TT proposes an overly complex cognitive architecture and does not capture the phenomenology of our mindreading experience. To combat such worries, I supplement the traditional account of TT with an account of social referencing. Social referencing is a heuristic model of how we quickly understand our social surroundings. I argue that this updated version of TT can adequately account for the challenges faced by standard TT and can readily explain how we mindread fictional entities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-100
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Aesthetic Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Mental Theorizing about Fictional Characters'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this