Much of the current interest in mental imagery must be due to its association with the broader concept of imagination, with its links to the notions of artistic and scientific creativity. This grand conception of the imagination is widely taken to have arisen amongst the philosophers and poets of the Romantic movement in the late 18th to early 19th centuries, before which it was merely the mental image forming capacity. Imagination was held by the Romantics to be the primary faculty by which human beings get in touch with reality, and it underlay creativity in the deep sense of enabling us to get in touch with the living truth of things (and not just in the sense of generating fresh but random combinations of ideas). Because of this association, "imagination" has become a key term in the conflict between the so called "two cultures" of the Arts and the Sciences.
However, a number of recent philosophers have argued that imagination in this sense, if it exists at all, is not closely tied up with the more mundane capacity to experience mental images, and, indeed, certain of the theories of the imagery mechanism that are now current amongst cognitive psychologists make it hard to see how imagery could bear much relation to the exalted faculty of imagination. This paper argues, to the contrary, that both our concepts of imagination and of imagery can be traced back to Aristotle's notion of phantasia. The intimate connection between imagery and getting in touch with reality is not a relatively recent notion of certain Romantic enthusiasts, but has survived through over 2,000 years of western thought, and thus deserves to be taken very seriously. Some consequences of the dual nature of imagination for contemporary theories of the mental image are considered.
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