University of Hertfordshire

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Personification Without Impossible Content

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)165-179
JournalBritish Journal of Aesthetics
Journal publication date16 May 2018
Early online date4 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2018


Personification has received little philosophical attention, but Daniel Nolan has recently argued that it has important ramifications for the relationship between fictional representation and possibility. Nolan argues that personification involves the representation of metaphysically impossible identities, which is problematic for anyone who denies that fictions can have (non-trivial) impossible content. We develop an account of personification which illuminates how personification enhances engagement with fiction, without need of impossible content. Rather than representing an identity, personification is something that is done with representations – a matter of use rather than content – and involves only a comparison of possibilities. We illustrate our account using the personification of death in the film Meet Joe Black, and show that there are no grounds for taking it to be fictionally true that there is a metaphysically impossible identity between Death and death.


This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in British Journal of Aesthetics following peer review. Under embargo until 4 April 2020. The version of record [Craig Bourne and Emily Caddick Bourne, ‘Personification without Impossible Content’, British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 58(2):165-179, May 2018] is available online at:

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