Academic Spotlight: Philosophical questions about the nature of fiction

by | Jul 28, 2021 | Academic insight, Politics, Philosophy and Economics, Postgraduate, Uncategorised | 0 comments

Emily Caddick Bourne has worked at the University since 2019. As Lecturer in Philosophy, Emily focuses on aesthetics, metaphysics and the philosophy of language, in particular questions about the nature of fiction.


I studied Philosophy at the University of Cambridge – I went to Newnham College for my BA and stayed there for my MPhil and PhD. Since then, I’ve worked in various teaching and research roles – I was Academic Director for Philosophy at the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education, a Jacobsen Research Fellow at Birkbeck and the Institute of Philosophy, University of London, and a Visiting Lecturer and Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire.

On Manchester

I was attracted to The University of Manchester primarily because the fit with my research interests felt right. There wasEmily Chaddick Bourne portrait interesting research being done in the department across the areas of philosophy I focus on, and I knew that colleagues would be enthusiastic and supportive about the work I was doing. At the University, I can use my research interests to shape my teaching, which means that in addition to more familiar philosophical questions, I also get to teach on novel topics and emerging debates. The city was a bonus too – there is a lot to enjoy in Manchester if you’re interested in the arts, so for somebody who spends a lot of their time thinking and writing about fiction, film and music, it’s a great place to work.

My research

In the second year of my undergraduate degree, I studied the topic of empty names – words that seem to function as names but don’t actually belong to any existent object. This made me interested in whether the names of fictional characters refer to anything. That eventually led to me writing parts of my MA, and then my PhD, on questions about the metaphysics of fiction and the idea of a ‘fictional world.’ I still find fiction extremely philosophically interesting, and although I now write on other things as well, a lot of my work finds its way back to questions about fiction.

I am currently working on a project centring on the idea of a ‘quasi-miracle.’ The philosopher David Lewis used this term to describe certain types of events which, although they are perfectly in keeping with the laws of nature, seem as if they are too bizarre to happen. I argue that a variety of interesting experiences, especially aesthetic experiences, involve regarding the world as quasi-miraculous. I’m also interested in fictions that encourage their audiences to think of themselves as participating in fictional events. I have written about this in connection with ethical evaluations of video-game play, and am currently working on an account of how to understand the conversational dynamics of interactions where comedy performers ‘stay in character’ in order to respond to criticisms of their work.

Postgraduate teaching

As well as teaching on the Philosophy MA, I am the programme director for this course, so I’m a point of contact for all Philosophy MA students, who will meet me in induction week. Outside teaching, you will see me at Philosophy department research seminars, which are a great opportunity for postgraduates and staff to get together for talks from department members and visiting speakers.