Academic journal article The Journal of Mind and Behavior

Knowledge through Imagination

Academic journal article The Journal of Mind and Behavior

Knowledge through Imagination

Article excerpt

Knowledge through Imagination. Amy Kind and Peter Kung (Editors). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016,272 pages, $74.00 hardcover.

Until recently, imagination has suffered an unfortunate fate in contemporary philosophy. Although it was often discussed, or at least comprised an important part of the background discussion, from the early modern to the modern period of philosophy, imagination has not received the attention it deserved in twentieth century philosophy. The wheels of fate, however, are turning again; imagination is now a hot topic in many fields of philosophy, including epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, ethics, etc. This book is a welcome addition to the recent growing literature on imagination, and it comprises an excellent collection of ten essays pertinent to the epistemology of imagination.

The book begins with a detailed introduction by the editors, Amy Kind and Peter Kung. The introduction itself is a fine contribution to the field in that it sets up a puzzle concerning the use of imagination in knowledge acquisition, delineates treatments of imagination in the history of philosophy, and outlines each of the ten essays. As the introduction contains a detailed summary of the essays, we will not belabor the details of the essays in this review. Instead, we formulate the puzzle concerning the use of imagination in knowledge acquisition in our own terms, and then offer a scheme for viewing the essays in the light of their mutual relationships vis-à-vis the puzzle.

Imagination is often put to two different and even conflicting uses, namely the transcendent use and the instructive use, to use Kind and Kung's terminology. In the transcendent use of imagination, one lets imagination play freely to look beyond the actual world; whereas, in the instructive use of imagination, one employs imagination to gain relevant information for decision-making or belief-formation that is about the actual, possible, or necessary way the world is. It is mysterious how the single mental activity of imagination can be entirely free of reality but still be knowledge-producing. This is what Kind and Kung refer to as the puzzle of imaginative use. Each essay tries to address or at least shed a new light on this puzzle. The puzzle is also succinctly formulated as the problem of how one can gain knowledge of the world via imagination.

Most contributors to the book acknowledge that what is ordinarily called imagination may not be of a united kind, and that it might be the case that different cognitive faculties or mechanisms are responsible for different kinds of imagination. Hence, Part One of the book, entitled Taxonomical and Architectural Approaches, collects essays that deal with how to distinguish imagination from other similar but less epistemically significant mental activities, and how imagination works in knowledge-producing ways. Part Two and Part Three are entitled Optimistic Approaches and Skeptical Approaches, respectively. They represent two opposing approaches to the puzzle of imaginative use: optimistic approaches endorse and work out the possibility of knowledge through imagination, and skeptical approaches deny or otherwise question the possibility.

The puzzle of imaginative use takes the form of an epistemological how-possible question, i.e., "How is knowledge through imagination possible?" Quassim Cassam (2007) distinguishes three levels of response to an epistemological how-possible question: level 1, the level of means, seeks to identify viable means of acquiring the relevant kind of knowledge; level 2, the obstacle-removing level, seeks to defeat epistemological or skeptical worries about coming to know by the means identified in level 1; and level 3, the level of enabling conditions, seeks to explain why it is possible to acquire the relevant kind of knowledge by the means specified in level 1. Level 3 explanations may appeal to the empirical (psychological and/or evolutionary; Cassam does not mention the latter) or non-empirical (philosophical) enabling conditions under which imagination brings knowledge via the specified means. …

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