Thinking through the Imagination: Aesthetics in Human Cognition

Thinking through the Imagination: Aesthetics in Human Cognition

Thinking through the Imagination: Aesthetics in Human Cognition

Thinking through the Imagination: Aesthetics in Human Cognition


Use your imagination! The demand is as important as it is confusing. What is the imagination? What is its value? Where does it come from? And where is it going in a time when even the obscene seems overdone and passe? This book takes up these questions and argues for the centrality of imagination in human cognition. It traces the development of the imagination in Kant's critical philosophy (particularly the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment) and claims that the insights of Kantian aesthetictheory, especiallyconcerning the nature of creativity, common sense, and genius, influenced the development of nineteenth-century American philosophy. The book identifies the central role of the imagination in the philosophy of Peirce, a role often overlooked in analytic treatments of his thought. The final chapters pursue the observation made by Kant and Peirce that imaginative genius is a type of natural gift (ingenium) and must in some way becontinuous with the creative force of nature. Itmakes this final turn by way of contemporary studies of metaphor, embodied cognition, and cognitive neuroscience.


It is not by dealing out cold justice to the circle of my ideas that I can make them
grow, but by cherishing them and tending them as I would flowers in my garden.

—Charles Sanders Peirce (1893)

The Imaginative Imperative

For the two children, the season began as a wild dash—a race against the length of summer days. But by mid-August, the days proved too long and hot for their short attention spans. The unconstrained freedom of vacation exhausted itself or, more accurately and more ironically, exposed itself as a type of aimless discontent. Freedom from chores, school, and responsibility revealed itself as boredom to me and my brother on a humid afternoon. The toys and blocks that had once riveted our attention lay thrown and neglected about the playroom. Haphazardly discarded games no longer occupied our full attention. Surrounded by a chaos of playthings, my brother and I sat bickering in the middle of the room. At least bickering gave us something to do.

My mother had been listening to us for some time from the garden. The injunction that came to us through the back window was as simple as it was emphatic:

“Boys! Stop Squabbling! Be Imaginative!

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