The Identity of Fictional Characters


mental files
indexed files
fictional characters



Fictional characters elicit prima facie conflicting intuitions. On the one hand, a fictional character seems linked to the particular work of fiction (a novel, a poem, a movie, etc.) in which it appears: Ulysses is described in one way in Homer’s epic poems, in another way in Virgil’s Aeneid, and in a still different way in Dante’s Divine Comedy. It is natural to distinguish Homer’s Ulysses from Virgil’s and Dante’s ones, since each of them has specific properties. On the other hand, we have the strong temptation to think that Ulysses is the same fictional character that persists in the passage from one poem to another, despite the change of features. The article tackles this kind of problems by focusing on the cognitive side. By adopting the theory of mental files, I will argue that all issues on the identity of literary characters here presented can be addressed without assuming the existence of fictional objects. Presumption of co-reference between multiple depictions of a given literary character is represented in our mind by means of a network of files, each one indexed to a work of fiction in which the character appears. Indexed files have a meta-representational function, so they do not need acquaintance with real objects. Linked indexed files do not refer, but still a unique reference is presuppose. They would have the same referent, if there was one.



Bonomi, A. (1994). Lo spirito della narrazione [The Spirit of Narration]. Milan: Bompiani.

Bonomi, A. (2008). Fictional Contexts. In P. Bouquet, L. Serafini, R. H. Thom-ason (Eds.), Perspectives on Contexts (pp. 215–250). Stanford: CSLI Publi-cations.

Coliva A., Belleri D. (2013). Some Observations on François Recanati’s Mental Files. Disputatio, 36(5), 108–117.

Crane, T. (2013). The Objects of Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Currie, G. (1990). The Nature of Fiction. Cambridge: CUP.

Donnellan, K. S. (1966). Reference and Definite Descriptions. The Philosophical Review, 75(3), 281–304.

Evans, G. (1973). The Causal Theory of Names. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society: Supplementary Volumes, 47(1), 187–208.

Evans, G. (1982). The Varieties of Reference. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Everett, A. (2003). Empty Names and ‘Gappy’ Propositions. Philosophical Stud-ies, 116(1), 1–36.

Everett, A. (2013). The Nonexistent. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fine, K. (1982). The Problem of Non-Existents. Topoi, 1(1), 97–140.

Friend, S. (2011). The Great Beetle Debate. Philosophical Studies, 153(2), 183–211.

Friend, S. (2014). Notions of Nothing. In M. García-Carpintero, G. Martí (Eds.), Empty Representations: Reference and Non-Existence (pp. 307–332). Ox-ford: Oxford University Press.

Geach, P. T. (1967). Intentional Identity. Journal of Philosophy, 64(20), 627–632.

Grice, H. P. (1969). Vacuous Names. In D. Davidson, J. Hintikka (Eds.), Words and Objections (pp. 118–145). Dordrecht: Reidel.

Grice, H. P. (1989). Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, MA: HUP.

Grosso, E. (2019). Indexed Mental Files and Names in Fiction. Disputatio, 11(54), 271–289.

Hall, K. J. (2013). Acquaintance and Mental Files. Disputatio, 5(36), 120–132.

Kripke, S. (2013). Reference and Existence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, D. (1978). Truth in Fiction. American Philosophical Quarterly, 15(1), 37–46.

Lo Guercio, N. (2015). Mental Files and Metafictive Utterances. Kriterion, 56(132), 541–555.

Ninan, D. (2015). On Recanati’s Mental Files. Inquiry, 58(4), 368–377.

Pagin, P. (2013). The Cognitive Significance of Mental Files. Disputatio, 5(36), 133–145.

Perry, J. (1980). A Problem About Continued Belief. Pacific Philosophical Quar-terly, 61(4), 317–332.

Perry, J. (2001). Reference and Reflexivity. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

Perry, J. (2002). Identity, Personal Identity, and the Self. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Recanati, F. (1998). Talk About Fiction. Lingua e Stile, 33(3), 1–12.

Recanati, F. (2000). Oratio Obliqua, Oratio Recta: An Essay on Metarepresenta-tion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Recanati, F. (2006). Reply to Voltolini. In M. Frápolli (Ed.), Saying, Meaning, and Referring: Essays on François Recanati’s Philosophy of Language (pp. 198–202). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Recanati, F. (2012). Mental Files. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Recanati, F. (2013a). Empty Singular Terms in the Mental-File Framework. In M. García-Carpintero, G. Martí (Eds.), Thinking and Talking about Nothing (pp. 165–183). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Recanati, F. (2013b). Reference Through Mental Files: Indexicals and Definite Descriptions. In C. Penco, F. Domaneschi (Eds.), What Is Said and What Is Not (pp. 159–173). Stanford: CSLI.

Recanati, F. (2013c). Mental Files: Replies to My Critics. Disputatio, 5(36), 1–36.

Recanati, F. (2014). Mental Files and Identity. In A. Reboul (Ed.), Mind, Values, and Metaphysics (Vol 2, pp. 467–486). Cham: Springer.

Recanati, F. (2016). Mental Files in Flux. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Recanati, F. (2018). Fictional, Metafictional, Parafictional. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 138(68), 25–54.

Salis, F. (2013). Fictional Names and the Problem of Intersubjective Identifica-tion. Dialectica, 67(3), 283–301.

Stojanovic, I., Fernandez, N. V. (2015). Mental Files, Blow Up by Indexed Files. Inquiry, 58(4), 393–407.

Strawson, P. (1974). Subject and Predicate in Logic and Grammar. London: Methuen.

Thomasson, A. L. (1999). Fiction and Metaphysics. Cambridge: CUP.

Thomasson, A. L. (2003). Fictional Characters and Literary Practices. British Journal of Aesthetics, 43(2), 138–157.

Voltolini, A. (2003). How Fictional Works Are Related to Fictional Entities. Dia-lectica, 57(2), 225–238.

Voltolini, A. (2006). How Ficta Follow Fiction: A Syncretistic Account of Fic-tional Entities. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer Science & Business Media.

Voltolini, A. (2010). Finzioni. Il far finta e i suoi oggetti [Fictions. Pretence and Its Objects]. Roma-Bari: Laterza.

Voltolini, A., Kroon, F. (2016). Fiction. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford Encyclope-dia of Philosophy. Retrieved from: