Just faking it? Pretend theory meets sexual fantasising
Kendall Walton ( 1990) proposed an influential, general theory of how we psychologically respond to fictions. According to Walton's theory, those psychological engagements are of a special variety because they always, only occur within contexts of pretence. Thus by Walton's lights, our enjoyment of works of representational art share a fundamental feature with children's games - the artworks serve as props in more sophisticated, adult games of make-believe. In playing such games we adopt attitudes of make-believe, not that of genuine belief. Our framing epistemic attitude in fictive contexts is, at best, only belief-like. Walton delivers a similar verdict with respect to other psychological attitudes, including our seeming emotional responses. For him, when engaging with fictions we only ever pretend to experience fear, lust, or anger. When playing games of make-believe - consuming fictional films and novels - we do not really experience the appropriate emotions demanded of us by the works, rather we only ever adopt phenomenologically similar, emotion-like states of mind- states which Walton dubs quasi-emotions. The upshot is that Walton's theory- known as pretend theory- incorporates a quite general vision of psychology of participating in and with fictions. It makes strong claims about the sorts of attitudes that come into play in such games. Importantly, although pretend theory accepts that we can be viscerally moved by fictions - physiologically and phenomenologically - it holds that those ways of being moved are at best akin to, but do not constitute, the having of relevant beliefs and emotions. Technically, in fictive contexts we only ever experience quasiemotions that are interestingly similar to the emotions they allow us to pretend to be experiencing. Quasi -emotions and real emotions are easily confused precisely because the former are phenomenologically charged states of mind with felt features that mimic features of the emotions that particular fictions seemingly ask us to experience. Unsurprisingly, this makes it hard to distinguish these two types of attitudes from one another.
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