If sensory imagining is not a double content, what is it?
We know, since Descartes (1641), that exercises of sensory imagining (S-imagining) are not purely imagistic: they possess multiple aspects. This much is agreed upon among philosophers but, when the question of the intentionality of S-imaginings arises, agreement seems to unravel. According to the Two Content View (TCV), S-imagining “has two kinds of content, qualitative content and assigned content” (Kung, 2010:632) – e.g., my image of an apple is about both (i) shapes and colors and (ii) about the fact that it is an apple, rather than a perfect imitation thereof. Advocates of TCV claim that the imagistic content does represent something, but it is not enough to individuate the imagining of an A rather than a B (Kung, 2010; Langland-Hassan, 2015; Martin, 2002; Noordhof, 2002; Peacocke, 1985; Tooming, 2018; White, 1990). Some, however, have expressed skepticism about TCV. As Sartre claims, “despite some prejudices […] when I produce in myself the image of Pierre, it is Pierre who is the object of my current consciousness.” (1940/2010:4) The intentional object of our S-imaginings is exhausted by a single content [...]
HUMBERT-DROZ, Steve. If sensory imagining is not a double content, what is it? The Junkyard, a scholarly blog devoted to the study of imagination, 2020, p. 8
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We know, since Descartes (1641), that exercises of sensory imagining (S-imagining) are not purely imagistic: they possess multiple aspects. This much is agreed upon among philosophers but, when the question of the intentionality of S-imaginings arises, agreement seems to unravel.
According to the Two Content View (TCV), S-imagining “has two kinds of content, qualitative content and assigned content” (Kung, 2010:632) – e.g., my image of an apple is about both (i) shapes and colors and (ii) about the fact that it is an apple, rather than a perfect imitation thereof. Advocates of TCV claim that the imagistic content does represent something, but it is not enough to individuate the imagining of an A rather than a B (Kung, 2010; Langland-Hassan, 2015; Martin, 2002; Noordhof, 2002; Peacocke, 1985; Tooming, 2018; White, 1990).
Some, however, have expressed skepticism about TCV. As Sartre claims, “despite some prejudices […] when I produce in myself the image of Pierre, it is Pierre who is the object of my current consciousness.” (1940/2010:4) The intentional object of our S-imaginings is exhausted by a single content treated in a specific way (Currie & Ravenscroft, 2002;
Goldman, 2006; Hutto, 2015; Mulligan, 1999; Soteriou, 2013; Stock, n.d.; Wiltsher, 2016,2019).
In the following, (1) I sketch one of the most efficient pleas for the TCV by Peter Langland- Hassan, (2) I give two reasons to doubt the decisiveness of his arguments, and (3) suggest that S-imagining can be captured by the attitude/content distinction.
1 – TCV
Before starting, it is of importance to say that the following discussion is not about the question of what makes S-imaginings “imaginative”. An advocate of the single content view could admit that every occurrence of S-imagining is an act of “imagining” (Currie &
Ravenscroft, 2002). Conversely, many friends of TCV defend that not all S-imaginings are imaginative (Arcangeli, 2019; Kind, 2001).
a. The multiple uses argument
A common argument in favor of TCV is that a single imagistic impression – say a suitcase – may be an imagining of a suitcase or of a cat hidden behind a suitcase (Peacocke, 1985:26).
The multiple uses argument does not merely say that the same image can be described in multiple ways, it claims that since the phenomenal aspect is not sufficient to distinguish between an image of A and an image of B, the imagistic content can be qualified as an indefinite description (Langland-Hassan, 2015:676). Since we immediately know what we are imagining, A or B, the content of S-imaginings includes a non-phenomenal content, contributed by something other than the image involved.
Langland-Hassan view’s elegantly sources non-phenomenal content from the regular content of mental states like belief, desire, or memory (ibid.:sect.3).
b. The correctness argument
S-imagining is used in many tasks with different correctness/satisfactory conditions: from judging to fantasizing. Langland-Hassan’s TCV can readily explain this by appealing to S- imagining’s (hybrid) content coming from other attitudes (2016: 12-13). Consider the following example (in bold the imagistic content):
JUDGMENT (When the couch arrives, it will be: a tan couch-shaped object fitting through a rectangular doorway. . .)
c. The argument from lack of function
According to Langland-Hassan, an attitude/mode is "simply that aspect of a mental state’s typical functional role that cannot be accounted for by its content." (2015:667) Therefore, if a mental phenomenon doesn’t have a functional role, it can hardly involve an attitude.
Langland-Hassan tries to find a normative fact about S-imagining that may reveal its function. Discussing three possible norms - norms of perception, norms of possibilities, no norms -, Langland-Hassan rejects them because S-imagining would be either always incorrect or always correct and there would be no room for cases in which we were clearly
wrong – e.g. when we judge, with S-imagining, that the couch will pass the doorway and it doesn’t (2015:672).
S-imagining lacks a specific function to explain these cases, but it can nevertheless have correctness conditions that seem inherited from belief, desire, memory, etc. – and TCV can easily explain this.
2 – Against TCV
Opponents of TCV should take up the gauntlet and argue that inheriting correctness conditions from regular attitude is compatible with S-imagining having its own aim (Wiltsher, 2019:sect.5).
a. The desire argument
The correctness argument may speak in favour of TCV, but it is not decisive. Desire can play a role in multiple tasks with different correctness conditions – by being included in the cognitive basis of actions, emotions,… –, but it would be bizarre to say that desire is a type of (hybrid) content for this reason.
On the other hand, if we consider S-imagining as an attitude, having a judgment about another attitude is largely accepted amid scholars: being conscious of our own attitudes, for instance, is often qualified as a judgment toward them (Rosenthal 1986).
b. The better experience argument
The argument from lack of function, if sound, is more decisive. For Langland-Hassan, we should reject the idea that S-imaginings are almost always correct – in particular if S- imagining aims at presenting what is possible. This is because it doesn’t reflect the normativity of “[t]he most frequent (and, for our survival, most important) imaginings [which] require a more precise conception of their correctness conditions." (2015:672, my emphasis); what does matter to us concerns actuality or likelihood.
Firstly, I don’t think these are the most common uses of our S-imaginings: most of the time our mental images illustrate our thoughts. In a nice example, Temple Grandin reports having an image of a Nesquik pack when she hears the term “quickly” (2006:14).
Advocates of imagining as aiming at presenting possibilities may say that these images are almost always correct/satisfied, they don’t aim at the actuality and presumably don’t play a role in decision-making, but they still correctly present a broad possibility of (seeing) a Nesquik pack.
If these are the most common uses, we can reverse Langland-Hassan’s argument and say that most of Grandin’s images are correct/satisfied per se but, sometimes, when she has the project to stick to the world, she puts the range of possibilities under constraint (Kind, 2016:155–56).
Observe that Langland-Hassan’s view is compatible with S-imagining having no correctness conditions (2015:673; Forthcoming:109-10). The point is just to say that TCV has no advantage upon a view where imagination does not aim per se at true.
I want to suggest something more: contrary to what Langland-Hassan argues, we do find intrinsic normativity in S-imagining – which suggests that it possesses a specific function.
This normativity is not related to truth, but there is at least one case where we can say that S-imagining is more or less efficient in the same way that perception is more or less accurate.
As Langland-Hassan remarks, a mental image doesn’t need to correspond exactly to reality to play a role in the correctness conditions of belief or other attitudes (2015:677).
But let’s say that my image of the couch is particularly fuzzy – at best I have the impression of a shape. You may say that, independently of its ability to fulfil its role in my belief/judgment, I imagine the couch badly. This affirmation would be odd if that image were a mere content. The fact that a proposition or concept isn’t rich is not problematic per se: having a blurry concept of a couch is not a way of thinking badly about a couch.
Conversely, it seems pro tanto good to have phenomenologically rich S-imagining.
This intuition fits well with views according to which imagination aims at re- creating/simulating the experiential aspect of mental states (Arcangeli, 2019; Currie &
Ravenscroft, 2002; Goldman, 2006; Soteriou, 2013).
3 – ATTITUDINAL APPROACH
To resist TCV, we may follow the idea that S-imaging is an attitude that has the function of treating a (single) content as a phenomenal experience.In this sense, S-imagining is not directly about its imagistic aspect in the same way in which a painter doesn’t paint a painting, she paints an apple (Kind, 2001:107). 1
a. The horizons argument
With the attitudinal view, we can now rethink the multiple uses argument. This argument is convincing when it involves a static image and a single proposition; however, things change when we investigate the relationship between the dynamic deployment of S- imagining’s content and our fine-grained phenomenology.2
Let’s consider Wiltsher’s idea of horizons: when someone imagines a cat behind a suitcase, her experience is not limited to the phenomenology of a suitcase-shape, she is ready to recreate the experience of the cat jumping from behind in virtue of the network of concepts and proto-concepts she’s deploying (2016:273). This is what my mom did when I asked her to imagine it: “I saw its tail rise up from behind the suitcase”.
It seems that our natural tendency in imagining is to assign fleeting and changing experiences to our deployment of content (Stock, n.d.:15-16). My mom could naturally restrain herself to illustrate only a suitcase, but the potential to illustrate the rest of the
1 This corresponds to other attitudinal approaches. See, for instance, the relationship between bodily feelings and content of emotions in Deonna & Teroni (2012:chap.7).
2 The importance of taking account of the dynamics of perception and imagination is an old claim
which started with Husserl (see Mulligan, 1995) and still discussed in the literature on perception (Soteriou, 2013:chap.4).
scenario would remain in the whole experience as an expectation. If we treat richness of S-imagining seriously, it becomes doubtful that what we share is the same overall experience in different uses.
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