Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 05, 2022, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/imagination/v-1
3. The imaginative and the routine
When a child comes to recognize dogs as dogs, does it use similar cognitive resources to those used by an artist who comes to see a cloud as a camel? An important theme among some philosophers of the imagination has been the idea that the cognitive faculties, skills or phenomena at work in our adventures of the imagination are also very much involved in the most routine episodes of cognition. In Hume, for example, ordinary categorization of things into kinds and the belief in independent continuous objects are attributed to the very faculty – imagination – that is responsible for storytelling. This faculty, we are told, makes faint copies of perceptions, recombining them in accordance with certain associative habits that Hume sets out to specify.
In Kant, the current theme is even more at work: perceptual experience cannot properly be thought of as a passive registering of information but, rather, requires that one actively apply concepts to sensation so as to see the world as this way or that, an activity for which imagination is responsible (though no implication of illusion is intended). Taking one’s sensations as perceptions those of a dog is apparently treated by Kant as importantly analogous to the child’s playfully seeing a broom as a horse. Kant’s imagination has two species: reproductive, whereby one sees something as being of a kind with something one has previously seen; and productive, whereby a priori concepts are brought to bear upon experience.
In finding continuities between the creative and the routine, one should not obliterate that distinction. One particular kind of exercise of the imagination that calls out for special treatment is the aesthetic variety. While giving imagination an extremely broad role to play, Kant was well aware that there is something distinctive about the aesthetic exercise of the imagination and sought to explain what that was. His central idea was that aesthetic imagination, while thought-provoking, takes us beyond the cognitive domain provided by our concepts. This idea proved crucially important to those Romantic thinkers after Kant who sought to use the aesthetic imagination as the grounding for fundamental metaphysics (see Romanticism, German §3).
Both Kant and Hume use ’imagination’ in an extended and thus unusual way in order to emphasis the putative continuities between the creative and the routine. A number of later writers such as Peter Strawson (1970) and Mary Warnock (1976) have also, in various ways, explored the continuity of imagination with humdrum perception and cognition, though there has been a move away from the idea of explaining the continuity in terms of a single faculty – an organ of the mind – that does various sorts of creative and humdrum work.
O'Leary-Hawthorne, J.. The imaginative and the routine. Imagination, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V017-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/imagination/v-1/sections/the-imaginative-and-the-routine.
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