In another question, a commenter noted that karma and rebirth are fictional concepts. Is there a difference between a fictional concept and an abstract one? Can something be both? Conversely, does an abstract concept imply that it is real?

In the case of karma, or going further, god, theologians would probably consider these constructions abstract; would philosophers (presumably those without a theological bent) consider them fictional?

4 Answers 4


In myth and fiction thoughts occur that are neither true nor false. Logic has nothing to do with these

~ "A Brief Survey of My Logical Doctrines", G.Frege, as quoted in "Frege on Fiction" by Marián Zouhar.

The latter article by Zouhar deduces Frege's views on fiction and fictional objects and compares and contrasts them with his views on (abstract) concepts. As far as I understand, it comes down to:

  1. there are two kinds of sentence parts: proper names and concept words.
  2. proper names have objects as their meanings
  3. concept words have concepts as their meanings
  4. concept words are like functions: they have "argument places" that can be filled
  5. once the argument places are filled with proper names, the whole sentence "evaluates" to truth or falsehood, depending on whether denoted (i.e. "meant") objects and concepts appear in reality in the relation corresponding to the relation of respective proper names and concept words in the sentence
  6. fictional objects and concepts do not denote anything real
  7. hence, sentences involving fictional objects and concepts do not evaluate to either truth or falsehood.

And if I'm not mistaken (see e.g. Concepts as Fregean senses in SEP article "Concepts"), for Frege concepts are abstract objects, and thus fictional concepts would be fictional abstract objects, with no correspondence to reality.


A concept is a thought-thing. It sacrifices the richness of inner-life by giving up meaning for the sake of refinement. This process of symbolization is 99% negation. Language involves a double refraction: we both hear the rhythm or melody and feel or perceive it as well! Concepts involve a secondary refraction we are impoverishing our inner-life—through the process of objectification—we are refining the sensory and internal restraint of our expressive life. The sensation is nothing but a projection of what’s already happened within the dynamic emotional (feeling) or gestalt structures according to Susanne Langer. Ernst Cassirer, one of her famous teachers, described this as the basic process of representation. Sure—the concept is one of the most stable things in the world after the double negation: first, taking in presentational symbolization then next, an inner symbolization involving the representation of perception and the sense-experience of the actual thing or being. We can develop or make new creative forms through space, time, and number. The concept will always be flexible according to the relations or dynamics between the representation and the object.

Meaning is not the quality of a term, but a function of its use. This allows for variation. Logical validity not only works according to a method of ratiocinative processes, but Langer highlights that there is a “feeling of necessity” by which the entity is moved. Any failure to communicate is a failure of meaning, which stems from the lack of connecting the feeling of the argument, proof, etc.

Language is a very highly developed, rationalistic structure of symbolism that helps us to attain meaning out of our present perceptions. Therefore, it would be incorrect to read our language structures into the non-human world and apply our levels of (ir)-rational patterns into these other modes of life. Langer is interested in the living world, including that of humans, and how it gets symbolized according to the interpretation of the presentational symbol, which are made of feelings which is more enduring than concepts themselves. How do I tell the story from signal (or symptom) to presentational immediacy, to a denotative language (which Cassirer calls pure significance like that found in science and mathematics). Feeling serves as the basis by which humans come to learn and think about things that have been named by us. We have a symbolic need that often times outrun the empirical needs we encounter in everyday experience


Abstract is not bound to physical entity. Christian heaven is an abstract settlement of the deity, as opposed to Greek Olympus, which was a physical mountain - still, since no gods factually resided on its top, that was their fictional residence.

Fiction works within our framework of known reality, filling in blanks with confabulation or altering chosen facts - it's based upon solid foundation of our reality with just relatively small alterations.

Abstraction is an entity all upon itself, either existing as a parallel to reality, or apart from it.

Karma and Rebirth are primarily abstract - they are based on existence of soul which exists completely beyond the reality of our existence, doesn't contradict it or conflicts with it, but exists besides, in an unprovable limbo.


Fictional comes from fiction which means imagination, invented story or pretense. It is not related to reality.

Abstract implies theoretical or pertaining to ideas as opposed to being something material.

[ Refer http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fictional and http://www.thefreedictionary.com/abstract ]

As regards to 'Can something be both?'

The answer is yes. For example, fiction maybe abstract by pertaining to ideas.

As for 'Conversely, does an abstract concept imply that it is real?'

Not at all. Being abstract is no guarantee for being real. As we just discussed, fiction (which is decidedly unreal) maybe abstract.

As for: In the case of karma, or going further, god, theologians would probably consider these constructions abstract; would philosophers (presumably those without a theological bent) consider them fictional?

I think this matter of personal opinion as the word god is ambiguous: it doesn't have a universally agreed upon meaning.

  • 1
    I would try to avoid doing "philosophy by Webster's". A dictionary entry shows little to nothing. Better would be to find some philosophical usage of these terms. To see what the problem is with the dictionary strategy, note that only the last entry for valid fits use in philosophy.
    – Dennis
    Feb 7, 2013 at 10:09
  • I have clarified the meaning of the two words before giving dictionary references. Also, the case with "valid" is that it has a very specific formal meaning in philosophy: The same does not apply to "fictional" and "abstract". The dictionary does clarify things here.
    – Madhur
    Feb 8, 2013 at 12:59

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