Imagination: The missing mystery of philosophy
Imagination: The missing mystery of philosophy

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Imagination: The missing mystery of philosophy

3 Imagery and supposition

Whatever view one takes of whether or how ‘imagining’ can be defined and whether there is a deep mystery here or not, it remains the case that there are many different conceptions of imagination, which are combined in different ways, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in tension, in the work of individual thinkers (the work of Descartes, Hume, Kant and Wittgenstein together give a good sense of the range of different conceptions, the ways in which the imagination is invoked, and the philosophical issues that arise). However, if there is a single issue that lies at the heart of debates about the imagination, then it is the tension between what might be described broadly as sensory and intellectual conceptions of the imagination. In the rest of this course, we will look at two questions that highlight this tension: whether imagery is a form of imagination, and whether supposition is a form of imagination. On the one hand, as reflected in Stevenson's first four conceptions, imagination is conceived in relation to sense perception, the only difference being the presence of the relevant object. In perception, we are aware of something that is present to the senses; in imagination, we are aware of something that is not present to the senses. What relates imagination to perception, it is often thought, is the presence in both of some kind of ‘image’ of what we are aware of. So imagery is regarded as essential to imagination (see Stevenson's fifth conception). But is this right? We will examine this issue in the next section. On the other hand, imagining is conceived as a kind of thinking. Since, more specifically, it is conceived as thinking of something whose truth or existence is somehow in question (whether on our part or on the part of the person doing the thinking), it has seemed natural to call this type of thinking ‘supposing’. So supposition has been seen as a form of imagination. We will look at this issue in the final section of this course.

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