Abstract: We often have affective responses to fictional events. We feel afraid for Desdemona when Othello approaches her in a murderous rage. We feel disgust toward Iago for orchestrating this tragic event. What mental architecture could explain these affective responses? In this paper I consider the claim that the best explanation of our affective responses to fiction involves imaginative desires. Some theorists argue that accounts that do not invoke imaginative desires imply that consumers of fiction have irrational desires. I argue that there are serious worries about imaginative desires that warrant skepticism about the adequacy of the account. Moreover, it is quite difficult to articulate general principles of rationality for desires, and even according to the most plausible of these possible principles, desires about fiction are not irrational.
Comment: This would function well as a required reading in a week on why we have emotional reactions to fiction, probably in a course for senior undergraduate students. It is suitable for a philosophy of fiction module.