A little less playfully, Robert Nozick has remarked that
Some literary characters are more real than others. Think of Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, Lear, Antigone, Don Quixote, Raskolnikov. Even though none of them exist, they seem more real even than some people we know who do exist. It is not that these literary characters are real because they are 'true to life', people we could meet believably. The reality of these characters consists in their vividness, their sharpness of detail, the integrated way in which they function toward or are tortured over a goal. [...] These characters are 'realer than life', more sharply etched, with few extraneous details that do not fit. [...] They are intensely concentrated portions of reality.(When I recently wrote my article about Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, I noticed the same impression of the main character, Aschenbach; I remarked there that
Mann’s whole carefully crafted framework of symbols and allusions, parallels and consequences, seems to have the singular purpose of producing a strongly coherent, compulsively unwinding plot which at closer examination leaves not the minutest detail to chance — everything’s in the scheme, so to speak. (And that’s what primarily constitutes the high literary quality and artistic value of the novella, after all.)
Philosophy often looks to literature (and, we might add, also to other highly sophisticated art forms such as drama or film), in order to find material to analyze or examples to use in demonstrations.
In seeking a reflective understanding of ethical life, for instance, [philosophy] quite often takes examples from literature. Why not take examples from life? It is a perfectly good question, and it has a short answer: what philosophers will lay before themselves and their readers as an alternative to literature will not be life, but bad literature.In other words, there is a reason why philosophers rely on literature for their examples instead of making up their own ones. Literature, as it were, is in the business of making good examples, whereas making up your own examples would risk making them too simple, or unrealistic — 'cartoonlike', as Bas van Frassen calls it:
An example could be a real happening or a story. But a cartoonlike sketch of a story is neither. Both in real life and in real literature, the observer finds himself in a context so rich that — despite the clear limitations on what he can observe — he has a basis for conclusions about thought and emotions. Cartoonlike sketches, however, do not generally give him such a base [...].So, carefully crafted literature (or, more generally: carefully crafted fiction) can bring us insights that are at least as good as those we can gain from life, that is, from our own experience. Combine this with the fact that we often have no way to experience certain situations ourselves (how could you know what it is to be a renowned writer such as Aschenbach unless you've had a similar career yourself?); thus in some way, fiction provides us with a repository of insights about the world which are just as authentic, but richer than what we could experience ourselves.
To connect back to the main theme of this blog: this function of fiction is a special case of the more general practice that I've called imagination — the process of generating unreality. Among other things, the function of imagination in our lives is to provide rich materials to fill us with a sense of purpose, and a sense of possibilities. (Which always must be counterbalanced by a closeness to reality, which results from the process I call 'reflection'.) Life just by itself couldn't give us all that. And that's why we have fiction (and unreality, more generally speaking).
 Oscar Wilde, The picture of Dorian Gray. In: Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, London: Collins 2003, 67.
 Robert Nozick, The examined life. Philosophical meditations. New York: Simon & Schuster 1989, 129–130.
 Note that Nozick, when he uses terms like 'real' and 'reality', employs them in a slightly different sense than the one I've used throughout this blog when I refer to forms of unreality. The literary characters Nozick talks about belong to instances of unreality (in my sense of the word), which Nozick expresses by saying that they "don't exist". Yet they have a profound effect on our world, in part by the process I've called sedimentation, and more generally by the fundamental role of our use of imagination in our lives. These aspects are what Nozick is about when he speaks of their (in his sense) being more real.
 Bernard Williams, Shame and necessity. Berkely: UC California Press 1993, 13.
 Bas C. van Fraassen, "The peculiar effects of love and desire", in: Perspectives on self-deception, ed. Brian P. McLaughlin and Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, Berkeley: UC California Press, 1988, 123–156 128.