"Can you imagine?!" The Role of Imagination in Understanding Others

September 26, 2023 - September 27, 2023
DFG Research Group "Geist und Imagination", Institut für Philosophie, Justus Liebig University of Giessen

Room 3
Senckenbergstraße 3
Gießen 35390


Universität Giessen
University of Geneva
University of Helsinki
Oklahoma State University
University of Tartu
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Uppsala University


Universität Giessen
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

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"Can you imagine?!" The Role of Imagination in Understanding Others 

“I understand what you're going through”, “Do you feel misunderstood?”, “She gets me”—we are constantly entangled in attempts of understanding others and of making ourselves understood. But what does it mean, exactly, to understand another person? There are roughly two influential ways to answer this question: one refers to mental state recognition, and the second pertains to a folk psychological understanding of other people, particularly their linguistic and non-linguistic actions. In these contexts, one very often finds two core ideas: First, “understanding” is often conceived as explanatory understanding. For instance, theories of action, especially those within the Davidsonian tradition, provide answers to the question of how we understand other people’s action or behaviour by citing reasons for actions (typically a belief-desire pair). Second, “understanding” typically refers to propositional knowledge of another person’s mental state. Thus, to understand another person could mean to know her mental states and the inferential relations between these states. Both, propositional knowledge of another person’s mental states and explanatory understanding of her actions, are certainly important when it comes to understanding other persons. But is interpersonal understanding exhaustively explained by these two aspects?  

Two hypotheses are at the centre stage of the workshop: the first one posits that there is a form of understanding that goes beyond mental state recognition and rationalisation by citing Humean reasons for actions. The second hypothesis is that, at least in some cases, imagination plays a decisive role in this understanding. In particular, the capacity to imaginatively take on another person’s perspective, including its phenomenal aspects, and to reenact her experiences may be crucial for the explanation of interpersonal understanding as well as its failure. But how can this manner of understanding be spelled out in a helpful way? 

The workshop’s aim is to explore the role of imagination in interpersonal understanding, beyond the limits of rationalisation and mere social cognition.


  • Shannon Spaulding (Oklahoma, USA): Imagining Others
  • Serena Gregorio (Gießen, Germany): Keeping it Together. Why Imagination Matters for Self-Constitution
  • Julia Langkau (Geneva, Switzerland): Imaginative Resistance in Empathy 
  • Lilian O'Brien (Helsinki, Finland): Imaginative Acceptance and Understanding Action
  • Uku Tooming (Tartu, Estonia): How to Imagine Better Together
  • Christiana Werner (Gießen/Duisburg-Essen, Germany): Simulating and Understanding. On Being an Understanding Person
  • Nick Wiltsher (Uppsala, Sweden): Is Phenomenal Imagination the Means or the End of Understanding?

The workshop, organised as part of the DFG-funded research project “Geist und Imagination” (Institut für Philosophie, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen), will take place exclusively in presence. 

Where: Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Room 3, Senckenbergstraße 3 35390 Gießen. 

When: 26-27 September 2023. Start: 10.00 am (sine tempore). End: 6.00 pm

Registration: Interested participants are invited to register by sending an email to [email protected] by September 15th.

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September 15, 2023, 8:00pm CET

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