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Imagination and Counterfactual Knowledge

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PI: Prof. Dr. Tobias Rosefeldt, Department of Philosophy, Humboldt University, Berlin

Collaborator: PD Dr. Daniel Dohrn, Department of Philosophy, Humboldt University, Berlin

 

In the first phase of the project, we investigated the epistemology of counterfactual knowledge: how can we have knowledge of what is not actually, but merely possibly the case? And how could we ever justify our assumptions about what would happen if some other particular situation obtained? One result of the first project phase is that imagination is likely to play an important role in a comprehensive answer to our original epistemological question. Hence imagination shall be our focus in the second project phase: according to many philosophers, imagination plays a key role in the acquisition of modal knowledge. Yet there currently is no plausible theory of imagination which fully explains this role. We will fill this gap in the second phase of the project.


First, we will investigate which forms of imagination there are and how they differ from each other and related mental states. Our inquiry will start with core applications of imagination, in particular quasi-perceptual states and mental imagery. Then we will proceed to possible applications which go far beyond providing mental imagery. We will also take a closer look at the relationship between imagination and scientific practices such as computer-aided visual simulations.

Next, we will explore ways in which cognitively valuable functions of imagination differ from uses of creative imagination which are not bound to such functions. Our working hypothesis is that imagination is cognitively valuable only provided it does not proceed in an unregulated way, but is reliably subject to suitable constraints. These implicit or explicit constraints covary with the different functions of imagination, in particular with the flexible contribution of imagination to different forms of modal knowledge. It is far from clear how precisely we manage to impose these systematic constraints so as to fine-tune the use of imagination in accordance with its different functions, and which mental faculties and capacities imagination recruits in performing its different tasks.

Our inquiry will be informed by the extant literature in philosophy and beyond. On the one hand, we will critically scrutinize the present debate on modal imagination. On the other hand, we will also deal in depth with a prominent conception of imagination in the history of philosophy, namely Kant's theory of 'Einbildungskraft'. We will explore the systematic potential of Kant's conception as a contribution to the contemporary debate on the cognitive value of imagination.