New SEP entry: Imagination

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has just published a new entry on “Imagination,” written by Tamar Gendler (Philosophy, Yale University). To access the entry, please click here. Below is the introduction, followed by links to the various sections of the entry.


To imagine something is to form a particular sort of mental representation of that thing. Imagining is typically distinguished from mental states such as perceivingremembering andbelieving in that imagining S does not require (that the subject consider) S to be or have been the case, whereas the contrasting states do. It is distinguished from mental states such asdesiring or anticipating in that imagining S does not require that the subject wish or expect S to be the case, whereas the contrasting states do. It is also sometimes distinguished from mental states such as conceiving and supposing, on the grounds that imagining S requires some sort of quasi-sensory or positive representation of S, whereas the contrasting states do not.

Contemporary philosophical discussions of the imagination have been primarily focused on three sets of topics. Work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychology has explored a cluster of issues concerning the phenomenology and cognitive architecture of imagination, examining the ways that imagination differs from and resembles other mental states both phenomenologically and functionally, and investigating the roles that imagination may play in the understanding of self and others, and in the representation of past, future and counterfactual scenarios. Work in aesthetics has focused on issues related to imaginative engagement with fictional characters and events, identifying and offering resolutions to a number of (apparent) paradoxes. And work in modal epistemology has focused on the extent to which imaginability—and its cousin conceivability—can serve as guides to possibility.

Because of the breadth of the topic, this entry focuses exclusively on contemporary discussions of imagination in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition. (For an overview of historical discussions of imagination, see the sections on pre-twentieth century and early twentieth century accounts of mental imagery in the corresponding Stanford Encyclopedia entry; for a more detailed and comprehensive historical survey, see Brann 1991. For a sophisticated and wide-ranging discussion of imagination in the phenomenological tradition, see Casey 2000.)


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