Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Published In

A Sense Of The World: Essays On Fiction, Narrative, And Knowledge

Series Title

Routledge Studies In Contemporary Philosophy


We can begin to approach what might be called the peculiarity of literature as a form of cognitive practice by comparing how literary works end with how other pieces of intellectual work end. A proof in mathematics ends by reaching its final line, where each line that is not an axiom is generated in explicit accord with a rule of inference that in principle anyone might follow. Reports of experimental results generated in a lab specify procedures that were followed in setting up equipment and carrying out tests. While they often also offer conjectural interpretations of results and suggestions for further work, they describe minimally a procedure that anyone might follow in order to achieve a like-enough result. Hence we can speak readily of objective evidence that a certain state of affairs can be produced so-and-so. In statistical social science, one finds reports of results from questionnaires or other data about populations expressed in numerical terms. Under the assumption that a larger population will not be too different from a sample, one can draw conclusions about distributions of traits and tendencies of development. History undertakes to tell us what happened, and the claims of professional historians are supported with reference to primary sources, indicated in footnotes. In economics, one often finds abstract mathematical models that describe processes of income distribution or GNP growth, for example, that are imagined to occur underneath a confusing surface of extra variables that induce deviations from the model. Among these cognitive practices, literature is perhaps most like economics in giving a model of certain processes in the world. This is scant comfort, however, since whether the processes described by economic models really do occur, on the one hand, or are rather fairy tales invented by clever calculators, on the other, is itself a subject of more than a little dispute. Literary models, moreover, if that is what literary texts offer us, are in even worse shape, since they focus only on very small numbers of mostly made-up cases, and they lack even the potential of refinement through the incorporation of further data.

Published By



J. Gibson, W. Huemer, And L. Pocci


This material was originally published in A Sense Of The World: Essays On Fiction, Narrative, And Knowledge edited by John Gibson, Wolfgang Huemer, and Luca Pocci, and has been reproduced by permission of Routledge. For permission to reuse this material, please visit the publisher's website.

Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear.

Find in Tripod

Included in

Philosophy Commons