How can we be moved by the fate of Anna Karenina when we know she’s not a real person?
In order to have an emotional response to a character or event, we must believe that it really exists. We know that this belief is lacking when we read a work of fiction. Yet we’re commonly moved by such works. Why?
It can’t be the case that we’re simply “caught up” in a story and forget that it’s fiction. If that were true then the fear, sadness, and pity we feel should be unpleasant rather than enjoyable. (Also, we’re not moved to intervene and help a fictional character.)
University of Kent philosopher Colin Radford concludes that our emotional responses to fiction are ultimately irrational, that “our being moved in certain ways by works of art, though very ‘natural’ to us and in that way only too intelligible, involves us in inconsistency and so incoherence.”
See Push and Pull.