In the mid-1970s, philosopher Colin Radford wrote an article entitled “How Can We be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?” In the article, Radford argues that emotional responses to works of fiction are as irrational as they are familiar. He calls this the paradox of fiction. And Radford’s fellow philosophers of art have spent the decades since that article’s publication arguing with each other about the best way to disagree with him.
As a person whose own art is the writing of fiction and whose academic background is primarily in literary theory, I am particularly interested in this topic, as well as in the philosophy of art more generally. The issue I have with almost all of the responses to Colin Radford over the years is that they largely agree that there is a paradox to be solved. In this article, I will argue that Radford’s evaluation of emotional responses to fiction as a ‘paradox’ is, at best, too hasty, and, at worst, blatantly incorrect.
Why Stories Make Us Feel: