Nigel J.T. Thomas Ph.D.
California State University, Los Angeles.
[Article published inThe Journal of Philosophical Research, 1997 (22) 95-127.]
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[PDF of published version]
This article defends tradition and common sense against a widespread and rarely questioned contemporary philosophical orthodoxy that underpins the entrenched and exorbitant "lingualism" of so much 20th century thought, and leads the way to extreme doctrines like cognitive relativism and eliminative materialism. It also plugs what might otherwise have seemed to be a significant hole in the argument of my Are Theories of Imagery Theories of Imagination? (which I regard as my main positive contribution so far to the understanding of the mind). For a relatively brief overview of the situation in cognitive theory and consciousness studies, as I see it, see A Stimulus to the Imagination.
Imagery and the Coherence of Imagination: a Critique of White.
Traditionally 'imagination' primarily denotes the faculty of mental imagery, other usages being derivative. However, contemporary philosophers commonly hold it to be a polysemous term, with several unrelated senses. This effectively eliminates this culturally important concept as an appropriate explanandum for science, and paves the way for a thoroughgoing eliminative materialism. White* challenges both these views of imagination, arguing that 'imagine' never means 'suppose', 'believe', 'pretend' or 'visualize', that imagery may occur without imagination, and that the true sense of 'imagine' is (roughly) 'think of as possibly being so'. I defend a version of the traditional view. The disseverance of imagination from imagery is motivated by an implicit version of the theory of mental images as pictures. Other contemporary scientific theories of imagery do not entail it. I defend a view of imagery as arising from the interpretative aspect of perception ('seeing-as') and connect this, and our contemporary concept of imagination, to the root Aristotelian concept of phantasia. This captures the association between imagination and creativity, and reveals the coherence of the concept, much more plausibly than White's theory.
*Alan R. White (1990): The Language of Imagination. Oxford: Blackwell.