Workshop on mental imagery and pretense

May 21, 2013
Centre for Philosophical Psychology, University of Antwerp

Rodestraat 14

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Susanna Schellenberg (Rutgers)

Gregory Currie (Nottingham/York)

Neil van Leeuwen (Georgia State)

Amy Kind (Claremont McKenna)

What time: 9.30am - 5.00pm



Susanna Schellenberg (Rutgers)

Belief and Desire in Imagination and Immersion

I argue that any account of imagination should satisfy the following three desiderata. First, imaginations induce actions only in conjunction with beliefs about the environment of the imagining subject. Second, there is a continuum between imaginations and beliefs. Recognizing this continuum is crucial to explain the phenomenon of imaginative immersion. Third, the mental states that relate to imaginations in the way that desires relate to beliefs are a special kind of desire, namely desires to make true in fiction. These desires to make true in fiction do not differ from regular desires in kind, but only in content. I argue for these three desiderata in turn by critically discussing several recent accounts of imagination.

Gregory Currie (Nottingham/York)

Visually attending to fictional  thinks

Reflecting on the way movies are traditionally made, it can seem surprising that fiction films have the power and vividness we experience when we see them. What we are most immediately presented with is a screen image: a moving pattern of light and colour, which is the projection of a photographic recording of the activities of actors on sets and locations. The actors, in their turn, play the part of fictional characters who, by and large, don’t exist. Yet our overwhelming tendency in the face of this layered representational complexity is to say that we saw Robin Hood rescuing Maid Marian; only in special circumstances do we talk of seeing Errol Flynn acting out a rescue with Olivia de Havilland in front of a camera, and virtually never do we seek to describe shifting patterns of light. Let’s call this fictive dominance; it is a feature of certain kinds of imaginings. In this paper I attempt to do two things: to say something about the nature of the cinematic medium which makes for fictive dominance, and to say something about the cognitive underpinnings of this imaginative phenomenon.

Neil van Leeuwen (Georgia State)

Surrounded by possibilities

How do imaginings influence our emotional states? And what do those manners of influence do for us as agents? In this talk, I take the following approach to answering these questions. First, I clarify the language of imagining: “imagine” can take a constructive sense, an attitudinal sense, and an imagistic sense. Second, I specify the neuropsychological pathways by which imagistic imaginings activate emotions. Third, I argue that the kind of functional pathway in question, which I call I-C-E-C (imagining-categorization-emotion-conceptualization), functionally supports three valuable agential capacities: bodily preparedness to potential events in the near environment, prudent evaluation of future action, and empathic moral appraisal. Interestingly, I-C-E-C also makes us susceptible to being emotionally engaged in fiction. So this theory gives an account of why humans are so enchanted by fiction: engagement in fiction is supported by a pathway, I-C-E-C, that we as agents wouldn’t want to do without.

Amy Kind (Claremont McKenna)

Imagining Under Constraints

As Hume has famously claimed, we are nowhere more free than in our imagination. While this feature of the imagination suggests that the imagination has a crucial role to play in modal epistemology, it also suggests that imagining cannot provide us with any knowledge of contingent facts about the world in which we live. In this talk, I reject this latter suggestion. Offering an account of imagining that I call “imagining under constraints,” I provide a framework for showing when and how an imaginative project can play a justificatory role with respect to our beliefs about the world. That we can be free in our imaginings does not show that they must proceed unfettered; as I argue, our ability to constrain our imaginings in light of facts about the world enables us to learn from them.  The important upshot is that the imagination has considerably more epistemic significance than previously thought.


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