There is a part in Harry Potter 7 Part 1 that illustrates quite nicely a point I made in a recent paper. Fiction cannot teach us anything about the world. In the movie, Harry and Ron try to destroy a horcrux. The horcrux binds Harry while it shows images of Harry and Hermione kissing. Ron had suspected a romantic relationship between Harry and Hermione. These images are a fiction presented to Ron. It just so happens that within the fictional world of the movie, the event shown in the fictional world of the hocrux is not the case. Here’s is video of the scene:
The important point in the movie is that Ron realizes that what the hocrux had shown was not true. At the end of the clip he runs forward to destroy the hocrux. Fictions can convincingly portray false states of affairs. Even if fictions sometimes do portray true states of affairs, we would need some kind of extra justification within the fiction to show that the events are real. What possible addition to the fiction could offer this justification? Supposing that Hermione really did prefer Harry to Ron. What about the hocrux’s show could possibly have As viewers, we fear that Ron will become convinced of Harry and Hermione’s relationship, knowing the hocrux is setting up a clever trick.
Even if the events of a fiction are true we must check the world for sufficient justification. In that case, the fiction only tipped us off to something that might be true and only upon checking the world we can actually learn something about the world.
Now I should distinguish my initial claim from the claim that we can learn nothing from fiction. Ron learned that he didn’t really believe that Harry was hooking up with Hermione. He learned something about himself. We can only learn about ourselves from fiction. We can learn circumstances which we regard as exceptions to moral rules. We can learn how we will feel about seeing certain events.
Now, finally, I must address the glaring paradox of attempting to show that we cannot learn about the world from fiction by using an example from fiction. My real argument is as follows: Although fiction can portray real events, it is possible for them to be false. If we expect to learn anything from fiction about events in the world, we must find some extra justification whereby we may know that the events are not false. And fiction cannot supply this justification. The example from Harry Potter serves as a thought experiment in which a fiction contains false information.
For more on fictions, fictional worlds, thought experiments and other things of that nature, see my paper The Claims of Fiction