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

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Imagination: The missing mystery of philosophy

4 Conclusion

  1. We began by considering the meanings of ‘imagination’ and related terms in everyday contexts, and then looked at the twelve conceptions of imagination that Stevenson distinguishes. This suggested a first definition of ‘imagining’ – ‘thinking of something that is not present to the senses’. This may lay down a necessary condition for imagining, but it does not lay down a sufficient condition, since it fails to exclude such things as remembering. We then examined Gaut's definition of ‘imagining’ as ‘thinking of something without alethic or existential commitment, i.e. without commitment to its truth or falsity, existence or non-existence’. This succeeds in distinguishing imagining from both perceiving and remembering, but excludes many standard cases of imagining. While Gaut is right about the relevance of considerations of truth and existence, he arguably brings them in at the wrong place. In an attempt to formulate a definition that was neither too general nor too specific, the following alternative was suggested. ‘Imagining’ means thinking of something that is not present to the senses and that may or may not be true or existent, thinking which, in being called ‘imagining’, indicates a lack of commitment to the truth or existence of what is thought of by the person calling it such. We considered the implications of such a definition and, in particular, the possibility it opens up of demystifying the Romantic conception of imagination.

  2. If there is a single issue that underlies debates about the imagination, then it is the tension between sensory and intellectual conceptions. This was brought out by examining the relationship that imagination has to imagery, on the one hand, and to supposition, on the other. Imagination neither implies nor is implied by imagery, it was argued, but this is not to say that there are no forms of imagination in which imagery plays an essential role. So too, it was argued, imagination neither implies nor is implied by supposition, but this is not to say that supposing may not constitute a form of imagining.

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