Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Thesis of My Upcoming Article on the Imagination

If you cannot imagine it, then you cannot consciously experience it as meaningful.

It seems simple, but one you parse what a Deweyan pragmatist means by "imagine," "conscious," "experience," and "meaningful," it's as far from obvious as you can get.

If I were to add some assumptions, it would read:

Since consciously apprehended meaning arises from the imaginative projection of anticipated consequences, then if you cannot ....

If I were to explain what meaning is and how it is projected, it would read:

Since meaning arises from the habitual association of qualitative experience with remembered enactions of that experience, and since .... (continuing with the previous qualification).

Finally for this teaser, I would add that "experience" is the interaction of body and environment, i.e., the local temporal-spatial field of interactivity, and thus the "remembered enactions of experience" is actually a description of the behavioral patterns of a local environment inclusive of a human being....  

For those who haven't heard me say it before--or read it--the point is that I'm working on a realist, pragmatist phenomenology that is also processional.  The "integral ecology" and OOO folks who like their flat ontologies may note that the only privilege given to human being is that it is the focal point of experience only because I'm interested in human conscious experience.  It I were interested in bare human experience, I could write a "phenomenology" of my shoes.  The difference would be that the shoes as a "body" do not experience (its) potentiality as qualitative.  Experience is modal, and not all things are capable of all modes, including humanity.


  1. I've said it before and elsewhere here, and let me say it again. Mark Johnson talks about an "image schematic logic" in his work. One way of putting what I do is explaining what the logic does on Deweyan grounds from a phenomenological perspective. The "if you cannot imagine it, then ..." line above is really making a comment about individual and social habit-structures and not about volition or "creativity" (imagining alternatives). What are the structural limitations of imaginative function such that our ability to imagine alternatives is limited? Exactly what question am I answering by giving a structural answer? How do various experiential functions (e.g., patterns of bodily-environmental transaction) such as quality, meaning, attention, emotion, volition, etc. interact, and when in the process do they do so? Asking the question of when also asks how much cognitive control an agent has; the process must be available in and after the cognitive phase to come into cognitive control. Otherwise, it cannot come into direct control, but only indirect, e.g., Dewey talks about altering the environment or changing social institutions and their material counterpart.

    I believe that one reason why some scholars balk at this sort of talk, aside from perhaps just disagreeing, is that they are not used to thinking in terms of the temporality of the process. The phenomenological perspective I take requires a temporal-processional perspective.

    For those who think we should just do science and skip these abductions, I tell you that 1) you cannot do an adequate science of this, and 2) we need preliminary solutions now as this concerns moral responsibility, etc. Given the phenomenological, moral, an implicit existential perspective, such theorizing among Deweyan scholars is a Jamesian "genuine option." That said, I hope more scientifically-entrench philosophers like Johnson continue to allow us more theoretical types to bridge theoretical vision and empirical science--both ways.

  2. There's a lot about imagination in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason....!

  3. Yes, I'm very aware of it. And the third critique, where the aesthetic is important. And many other sources. I like Heidegger, myself. Kant is perhaps the closest of well-known thinkers to the view that I'm giving, but I like Heidegger's structure of temporality.

    If you go back far enough in my posts, I mention where this is coming from in the literature. Mark Johnson is the leading theorist of imagination in the pragmatist tradition (including classical, neo, and neutral). His theory was originally an outgrowth of Kant. Rather than grow from Kant, I am proposing a truly pragmatist theory, i.e., home-grown.