The imagery debate: A critical assessment

Journal of Philosophical Research 21 (January):149-182 (1996)
No one disputes that certain cognitive tasks involve the use of images. On the other hand, there has been substantial disagreement over whether the representations in which imaginal tasks are carried out are imaginal or propositional. The empirical literature on the topic which has accrued over the last twenty years suggests that there is a functional equivalence between mental imagery and perception: when peopIe imagine a scene or event, the mental processes that occur are functionally similar in important senses to what happens when they visually perceive an analogous scene or event. What is in dispute is not this principle of equivalence, but rather what conclusions should be drawn from it about the representational medium used in imagery.The problem to be explained is what internal cognitive events transpire when people answer questions like “What color is a bee’s head?” Most people report that they imagine a picture of the insect and then look at the head in the image to determine its color. Although there is no more reason to accept these introspective reports as a good account of cognitive processes than in any other cognitive phenomena, there are many empirical results which lend credence to the idea that there are mental images of some kind.Some theorists have taken the empirical results as evidence that there exists a special, non-symbolic representational medium for imagery. Others have insisted that the imagery data can be explained best in terms of the more general, symbolic representations which are usually taken to underly higher level cognitive tasks. In this paper I shall evaluate the arguments for both imaginal and propositional representations in the hope of assessing the status of the imagery debate. I shall conclude that imaginal theories represent the most reasonable account of imagery
Keywords Cognition  Data  Epistemology  Event  Imagery
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Reprint years 2010
ISBN(s) 1053-8364
DOI 10.5840/jpr_1996_24
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