Kendall Walton ( 1990) proposed an influential, general theory of how we psychologically
respond to fictions. According to Walton's theory, those psychological engagements
are of a special variety because they always, only occur within contexts
of pretence. Thus by Walton's lights, our enjoyment of works of representational art
share a fundamental feature with children's games - the artworks serve as props in
more sophisticated, adult games of make-believe. In playing such games we adopt
attitudes of make-believe, not that of genuine belief. Our framing epistemic attitude
in fictive contexts is, at best, only belief-like. Walton delivers a similar verdict with
respect to other psychological attitudes, including our seeming emotional responses.
For him, when engaging with fictions we only ever pretend to experience fear,
lust, or anger. When playing games of make-believe - consuming fictional films
and novels - we do not really experience the appropriate emotions demanded of us
by the works, rather we only ever adopt phenomenologically similar, emotion-like
states of mind- states which Walton dubs quasi-emotions.
The upshot is that Walton's theory- known as pretend theory- incorporates a
quite general vision of psychology of participating in and with fictions. It makes
strong claims about the sorts of attitudes that come into play in such games.
Importantly, although pretend theory accepts that we can be viscerally moved by
fictions - physiologically and phenomenologically - it holds that those ways of
being moved are at best akin to, but do not constitute, the having of relevant beliefs
and emotions. Technically, in fictive contexts we only ever experience quasiemotions
that are interestingly similar to the emotions they allow us to pretend
to be experiencing. Quasi -emotions and real emotions are easily confused precisely
because the former are phenomenologically charged states of mind with
felt features that mimic features of the emotions that particular fictions seemingly
ask us to experience. Unsurprisingly, this makes it hard to distinguish these
two types of attitudes from one another.