In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fictionalism

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Collection
  • Field’s Mathematical Fictionalism
  • Mathematical Fictionalism after Field
  • Yablo
  • Modal Fictionalism
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Composition
  • Existence, Non-Existence, and Identity
  • Truth, Propositions, and Propositional Attitudes
  • Fictional Entities
  • Morality
  • Religion
  • Debating Fictionalism

Philosophy Fictionalism
David Liggins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0034


The term “fictionalism” is defined in many different ways. The most common definition is along these lines: fictionalism about a discourse claims that the sentences of the discourse are useful but does not claim that they are true. Typically, fictionalists will deny that sentences of the discourse are true. Thus a fictionalist in the philosophy of mathematics may say that mathematical sentences (such as “2 + 2 = 4”) are useful but false: numbers are (in some sense) “useful fictions.” Fictionalists will typically recommend that we should carry on using the sentences in question, accepting them without believing them. This is known as “revolutionary fictionalism.” According to “hermeneutic fictionalism,” we do not currently believe what the sentences say (even if we seem to believe them). Fictionalist approaches have been discussed with respect to many different discourses. This article provides a highly selective guide to the growing literature, chosen on the basis of importance, influence, and accessibility. Fictionalist accounts of mathematical, moral, and possible-worlds talk have been the subject of especially intense debate; but fictionalist treatments of a great number of other discourses have also been offered. Within the philosophy of science and the philosophy of religion, discussion of fictionalist ideas is growing in prominence. It is worth noting that fictionalist positions are not always given the name “fictionalism.”

Overviews and Collection

The excellent survey Eklund 2019 is available for free online. Caddick Bourne 2013 emphasizes connections between fictionalism and philosophical ideas about fictions. Kalderon 2005 and Armour-Garb and Kroon 2020 are collections of papers on various forms of fictionalism (mathematical, moral, modal, etc.). The textbook Kroon, et al. 2019 is a lucid and approachable introduction to many strands in the fictionalism debate, including some topics not covered in this Oxford Bibliographies article.

  • Armour-Garb, Bradley, and Frederick Kroon, eds. Fictionalism in Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    Collection of new and old papers on a variety of fictionalist theories and projects, and broader pieces ranging across different areas of philosophy.

  • Caddick Bourne, Emily. “Fictionalism.” Analysis Reviews 73.1 (2013): 147–162.

    DOI: 10.1093/analys/ans126

    Critical survey of recent work. Caddick Bourne explores how various fictionalist views draw on apparatus used in philosophical accounts of fiction (for example, pretense and operators such as “According to the Sherlock Holmes stories, . . .”).

  • Eklund, Matti. “Fictionalism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2019.

    Critical survey of fictionalism, covering the varieties of fictionalism, arguments for and against fictionalist views, and reflections on the broader philosophical significance of fictionalism.

  • Kalderon, Mark, ed. Fictionalism in Metaphysics. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005.

    Valuable collection that includes papers on many different forms of fictionalism (mathematical, moral, modal, etc.).

  • Kroon, Frederick, Stuart Brock, and Jonathan McKeown-Green. A Critical Introduction to Fictionalism. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

    Textbook, introducing the reader to many of the theories and arguments that make up the debate over fictionalism. Economical and readable style of writing. The extended bibliography is helpful, and there are detailed guides to further reading at the end of each chapter.

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