Two Varieties of Literary Imagination: Metaphor, Fiction, and Thought Experiments

Midwest Studies in Philosophy 33 (1):107-130 (2009)
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Recently, philosophers have discovered that they have a lot to learn from, or at least to ponder about, fiction. Many metaphysicians are attracted to fiction as a model for our talk about purported objects and properties, such as numbers, morality, and possible worlds, without embracing a robust Platonist ontology. In addition, a growing group of philosophers of mind are interested in the implications of our engagement with fiction for our understanding of the mind and emotions: If I don’t believe that Anna Karenina exists, can I really pity her, or hope or desire that she extricate herself from her tragic situation? And why is there no “morality fiction,” analogous to science fiction? I suspect that philosophers have been especially comfortable thinking about fiction because it seems, at least prima facie, to employ the imagination in a way that conforms to a standard model of the mind. Specifically, contemporary philosophers tend to think of imagination as a form of mental pretense. Mental pretense can take two main forms: a cognitive attitude of supposing a set of propositions to be true (make-believe) or else an experiential state of imaging a scenario as if it were before one (imaging). Much of our pretense intertwines the cognitive and experiential modalities, of course. But both share a crucial common feature: all of one’s imaginative effort is invested in pretending that certain contents obtain. In this sense, we can understand imagination as the “offline” simulation of actual beliefs and perceptions (and perhaps other attitudes as well), where we analyze these in the normal way, as states individuated by their attitude and representational content. While I share the burgeoning interest in fiction, I want to suggest that we also have a lot to learn from poetry, and in particular from poetic metaphor. I will argue..



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Elisabeth Camp
Rutgers University - New Brunswick

Citations of this work

Imagination.Shen-yi Liao & Tamar Gendler - 2019 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Moral Testimony: Transmission Versus Propagation.Alison Hills - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 101 (2):399-414.
Metaphors in Neo-Confucian Korean Philosophy.Hannah H. Kim - forthcoming - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
Imagination.Tamar Szabó Gendler - 2011 - In Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University.
Perspectives in Imaginative Engagement with Fiction.Elisabeth Camp - 2017 - Philosophical Perspectives 31 (1):73-102.

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Consciousness Explained.William G. Lycan - 1993 - Philosophical Review 102 (3):424.

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