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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V017-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Imagination is a speculative mental state that allows us to consider situations apart from the here and now. Historically, imagination played an important role in the works of many of the major philosophical figures in the Western tradition – from Aristotle to Descartes to Hume to Kant. By the middle of the twentieth century, in the wake of the behavioristic mindset that had dominated both psychology and philosophy in the early part of the century, imagination had largely faded from philosophical view and received scant attention from the 1960s through the 1980s. But imagination returned to the limelight in the late twentieth century, as it was given increasing prominence in both aesthetics and philosophy of mind.

In aesthetics, interest in imagination derives in large part from its role in our engagement with works of art, music, and literature. For example, some philosophers have called upon imagination to capture the essence of fiction, while others have called upon it to explain how listeners understand the expressive nature of musical works. Yet others have seen imagination as centrally involved in ontological questions about art; in particular, they take works of art to be best understood as in some sense imaginary objects.

In philosophy of mind, imagination plays an especially important role in discussions of mindreading, that is, our ability to understand the mental states of others. While theory theorists claim that we do this by calling upon a folk theory of mind, simulation theorists claim that we mindread by simulating the mental states of others – with simulation typically cashed out in terms of imagination. More generally, philosophers of mind who are interested in questions of cognitive architecture tend to be especially interested in imagination and its relationship to belief and desire.

In fact, imagination has come to play an important role in a wide variety of philosophical contexts in addition to aesthetics and philosophy of mind. It has traditionally been central to discussions of thought experimentation and modal epistemology, where an analogy is often drawn between the way perception justifies beliefs about actuality and the way imagination seems to justify beliefs about possibility. Imagination has also been invoked to explain pretence, dreaming, empathy, delusion, and our ability to engage in counterfactual reasoning.

Citing this article:
Kind, Amy. Imagination, 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V017-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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