Novels and Their Instances: A Metaphysical Exploration


Abstract. What is the ontological status of novels? Are they inscriptions (i.e., concrete texts typically written or printed on something or displayed on the screen of some electronic device)? Sets of inscriptions? Mental representations of some semantic content? Structures of meanings? Syntactic sequences? Or something else? Furthermore, what is the ontological status of instances of a novel (i.e., entities that manifest all the primary properties that must be experienced to fully appreciate this novel)? Are they readings (i.e., sequences of sounds generated as a result of reading aloud)? Inscriptions? Both readings and inscriptions? Or some other entities?


My goal in this dissertation is to answer these questions.


The dissertation is structured as follows. In Part Ⅰ, I provide some terminological clarifications that must be made before addressing the issues concerning the ontological status of novels and their instances. In particular, in Chapter 1 (“Defining ‘a Novel’”), I define “a novel,” and in Chapter 2 (“Defining ‘an Instance of an Artwork’”), I define “an instance of an artwork.”

Part Ⅱ is aimed at clarifying the ontological status of instances of novels. I begin, in Chapter 3 (“Against Inscriptions as Instances of Novels”), by arguing against the most widely endorsed ontology of instances of novels—the ontology according to which the paradigmatic, or most typical, entities that serve as such instances are inscriptions. Next, in Chapter 4 (“An Ontology of Instances of Novels”), I put forward and defend an alternative ontology—the one according to which instances of novels are readings and mereological sums of readings and graphic elements. Finally, in Chapter 5 (“The Novel as a Performing Art”), I examine a peculiar consequence of the foregoing ontology—that the novel is a performing art.

The purpose of Part Ⅲ is to clarify the ontological status of novels. I begin, in Chapter 6 (“What a Novel Is Not”), with a critical overview of the most promising existing ontologies of novels, arguing that none of these ontologies stands up completely to criticism. Then, in Chapter 7 (“An Ontology of Novels”), I expound and defend a new ontology of novels. According to this ontology, novels are a peculiar kind of concreta—namely, concrete types composed of certain sonic, semantic, syntactic, and contextualist elements.