An Introduction to Fictional Worlds Theory

by Bohumil Fořt (Author)
©2016 Monographs 105 Pages
Series: Literary and Cultural Theory, Volume 43


The author extensively details, analyses and compares key concepts and strategies of fictional worlds theory: a theory which has, over recent years, developed rather rapidly and is connected with leading scholars in the area of literary studies, such as Lubomír Doležel, Umberto Eco, Thomas Pavel, Ruth Ronen, and Marie-Laure Ryan. The book focuses on theoretical suggestions from which the fictional worlds theory borrows its main ideas, that is, logic, semantics, and linguistics. It also examines areas of literary theoretical investigation, in which the fictional world theory has proven itself to be a significant tool for conducting more detailed research, namely intertextuality, fictional and historical narration.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • I. Possible worlds
  • 1. The notion of possible worlds
  • 2. The qualities of possible worlds
  • 3. Identification in possible worlds
  • 3.1 Trans-world-identity (TWI)
  • 3.1.1 Kripke’s notion of transworld identity
  • 3.1.2 Rescher’s possible worlds and TWI
  • 3.2 Counterpart theory
  • 4. Possible worlds and the actual world
  • 5. Possible worlds and truth values
  • 5.1 Necessity and possibility
  • 5.2 The accessibility-relation between possible worlds
  • 6. Possible worlds and linguistics
  • 6.1 Cresswell’s possible worlds and natural language
  • 7. Extension and intension
  • 7.1 Basic logical terms
  • 7.2 Gottlob Frege
  • 7.3 Rudolf Carnap
  • 7.4 Richard Montague
  • 7.5 Saul Kripke
  • II. Fictional worlds as possible worlds
  • 1. Preliminary motivations
  • 2. Possible worlds of logic and fiction
  • 2.1 Impossible worlds
  • 3. Fictional worlds and the actual world
  • 3.1 The accessibility relation
  • 3.2 Fictional and historical counterparts
  • 3.3 Finitude and completeness
  • 4. The structure of fictional worlds
  • 4.1 Extensional and intensional structures of fictional worlds
  • 4.2 Narrative modalities
  • 4.3 Intensional functions
  • 4.4 Authentication function
  • 4.4.1 The principle of minimal departure
  • 4.5 Saturation function
  • 4.5.1 Fictional encyclopedia
  • 4.6 Fictional and historical worlds
  • III. Literary transduction
  • 1. General specification
  • 2. Intertextuality
  • 3. Transduction
  • 3.1 Lubomír Doležel’s view of intertextuality
  • 3.2 Transduction and fictional worlds
  • 3.3 Transduction as an alternative to intertextuality
  • IV. The Prague School and fictional worlds
  • 1. Linguistics and aesthetics
  • 2. Literary theory
  • 3. Fictional worlds
  • Literature

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I. Possible worlds

1. The notion of possible worlds

The concept of possible worlds is originally connected with the name of Saul Kripke and has become one of the most useful concepts in the field of modern logical semantics. Alvin Plantinga, another prominent logician, straightforwardly asserts that a possible world is “a way things could have been” (PLANTINGA 1974: 44). On the one hand, this general description of the notion of possible worlds sufficiently explains the merit of the notion; on the other, it is general to the extent that it allows almost any approach in the humanities and sciences to adopt it and use it for their own purposes. For now, we can stick to the claim that fictional worlds are (possible) sets of states of affairs; this statement represents the most common and frequent understanding of the term.

The motivation of the development of possible worlds becomes clear when one focuses thoroughly on the most frequently employed description of possible worlds: “The idea is roughly this: we can all imagine that the world we live in could be somewhat different from what it in reality is, and we also seem to be able to talk meaningfully about what would happen if the world were different, as in the following sentence: ‛If it had not rained this morning, we would have gone to the country.’ We can thus say that there are several ‛ways in which the world could have been’. Instead of this complex expression we will use the shorter expression ‛possible world’” (ALLWOOD-ANDERSSON-DAHL 1977: 22).

Saul Kripke, in his Naming and Necessity (1980), used the notion of possible worlds as the basis for his own system of intensional logic: an intension of a statement is the statement’s extension related to a possible world, i.e., a function that relates every possible world to an extension of all statements in this world. Kripke strives to develop a semantic system encompassing modal operators; such as, necessity and possibility. Possible worlds semantics thus becomes an adequate tool for fulfilling this aim. Most logicians seem to agree that possible world semantics helps them to avoid some of the difficulties involved in classical approaches to logic. One logician, Wolfgang Heydrich, comments on the motivation of introducing possible worlds to logic explicitly: “The basic intuition is about the nature of modality, and it consists in the leading idea that possibility amounts to a pre-fabricated space of all the consistent and complete ways the world is or might have been“ (HEYDRICH 1989: 189).

But what is a possible world? What is its status? What exactly does David Lewis mean when he stipulates that, “Possible worlds are what they are and not ← 13 | 14 → some other thing” (LEWIS 1973: 85)? We first need to explore some of the basic characteristics of the concept of possible worlds.

At the beginning of an investigation of possible worlds it should be emphasised that the notion itself was originally introduced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in his book, Theodicea (1710). Nevertheless, Leibniz uses this notion purely for the purposes of the building of his own metaphysical system.1 Clearly, modern logic does not insist on the metaphysical background of fictional worlds any more. As Jaroslav Peregrin suggests, “One way is to view possible worlds as instruments of certain empirical features of a language (of modal statements and their semantic properties, in particular), where their acceptance is based on a belief that these worlds are useful tools in providing a simple and transparent solution to the problems that have led us to an abandonment of extensional semantics. Taking a different perspective, we can start to examine the essence of statements, meanings, worlds and truth and come to the conclusion that, besides our actual world, there are many non-actualized possible worlds, and that the meanings of statements are relative to the worlds in which they are true. This path can be assigned as ‛speculative-metaphorical’” (PEREGRIN 1998: 93–94). According to this statement, it is possible to submit the notion of possible worlds to a metaphysical inquiry; however, the way in which the term is used in logical semantics refers more or less to the first way suggested above by Peregrin – as we will see later, this can be found especially in the approach of Richard Montague, who uses sets of logical possibilities to evaluate modal statements in natural language; these sets are, in fact, possible worlds of contemporary logic.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (October)
extensional function intertextuality transduction the Prague School possible world intensional function
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 105 pp.

Biographical notes

Bohumil Fořt (Author)

Bohumil Fořt is an associate professor at Masaryk University in Brno and a senior researcher at the Czech Academy of Sciences. His fields of interest are literary theory, semantics, narratology, and fictional worlds theory.


Title: An Introduction to Fictional Worlds Theory
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107 pages