Ways of Speaking of Imagination Alan R. White Analysis, Vol. 46, No. 3. (Jun., 1986), pp. 152-156. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-2638%28198606%2946%3A3%3C152%3AWOSOI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7 Analysis is currently published by The Analysis Committee.
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152 ANALYSIS there remains no important objection t o an event-causation analysis of intentional action - or none emanating from the problem of intervening intentions! Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164-5130, U.S.A.
@JAMES MONTMARQUET 1986
WAYS O F SPEAKING O F IMAGINATION
'Speaking of Imagination' (Lanpage, Mind and Brain, edd.
T. W. Simon and R. J. Scholes (1982), pp. 35-43, reprinted with
additions as Chapter I11 of The Matter of Minds, Oxford 1984), Zeno Vendler advances several linguistic arguments for the thesis that all that can be imagined are experiences. I shall try to show that these arguments are invalid. My aim in this is to get nearer to a correct understanding of the nature of imagination by throwing doubt on this restriction. What Vendler has done is to generalise about imagination from a selection of examples like 'imagine swimming' and 'imagine someone swimming'. Vendler begins by distinguishing between 'Imagine Ving', for example 'imagine swimming, eating a lemon, being on the rack, whistling in the dark, seeing or hearing so and so', and 'Imagine A (or A's) Ving', for example 'Imagine yourself swimming, running or whistling, him swimming, running or whistling, Rubinstein playing'. He then argues that the second group can be reduced to the first on the ground that 'imagine A (or A's) Ving' is elliptical for 'imagine seeing, (or hearing) etc. A (or A's) Ving'. Thus, to imagine yourself or him (his) swimming or playing is, he holds, to imagine seeing yourself or him (his) swimming or hearing yourself or him (his) playing. Hence, all such imagination calls for 'the representation of the experiences', whether tactual, muscular or kinaesthetic sensations in the first group or visual and auditory in the second group, which the imaginer would have if he were in the imagined situation. A first objection to this is that Vendler has been misled by his restricted diet of examples. T o imagine sacrificing everything for one's principles, going to all that trouble just for the sake of a dead cat, selling one's birthright for a mess of pottage, working all one's life for a pittance, paying 21,000 for a hat, etc. is not to give oneself a representation of any experiences. Nor is imagining oneself or someone else doing any of these or imagining, for example, him (or his) running a university, working with a woman, agreeing to this, changing his mind about that, approving of so and so or submitting to such and such linked to any representation of experiences either
WAYS OF SPEAKING OF IMAGINATION
directly of a tactual, muscular or kinaesthetic kind or indirectly of a perceptual kind. Many of the situations in which I can imagine myself being, for example worried by this, inclined t o do that, undecided between these two alternatives, misunderstood by my friends, are not situations in which I imagine seeing myself. A second objection is to Vendler's thesis that the second group of imaginings, that is 'imagining A (or A's) Ving', is reducible to the first, that is, 'imagining Ving', on the ground that 'imagining A (or A's) Ving' is elliptical for 'imagine seeing (hearing, etc.) A (or A's) Ving' (by contrast Ryle, in The Concept of Mind, p. 273, says that what I imagine is always myself Ving). One reason for this false thesis is again a restricted diet of examples. To imagine or to be unable to imagine either oneself or another('s) agreeing to this, changing one's mind about that, approving of so and so or disapproving of such and such, sacrificing all for love, spending so much money on a hat, etc. is not to imagine or be unable to imagine seeing (or hearing) oneself or another('s) doing this. Even in sensory examples - to take a few modelled on his own there is a difference, neglected by Vendler, for example, between imagining seeing a lion coming towards one and imagining a lion mating with a tigress, between imagining seeing a building towering above one and imagining a building being venerated by a tribe, between imagining hearing church bells far away or the sound of a train coming close and imagining church bells splitting in twain or the sound of a train's annoying the passengers, and between 'It is myself (and not you) that I imagined seeing swimming in that water' and 'It is myself (and not you) that I imagined swimming in that water'. It would be quite mistaken to take the second member of each of these pairs, which are examples of imagining A (or A's) Ving, as examples of imagining seeing or hearing A (or A's) Ving. Neither to imagine being shaved by a monkey nor to imagine yourself or someone else being shaved by a monkey is to imagine seeing yourself or someone else being shaved by a monkey. Equally, 'Fancy you (your) being here' is quite different from 'Fancy seeing you hereY, which Vendler, who believes that 'fancy' is a 'near synonym to imagine', ought to think its equivalent. 'Fancy Caruso singing that aria' is not the same as Vendler's example 'Fancy hearing Caruso singing that aria'. Vendler's thesis that to 'imagine A (or A's) Ving' is to 'imagine seeing (hearing, etc.) A (or A's) Ving' forces him to disallow B's imagining A (or A's) seeing or hearing something on the plausible grounds that one cannot see or hear another('s) seeing or hearing something, as contrasted with him (his) looking at or listening to it. But there is nothing strange about my imagining Shelley('s) hearing a skylark and being disappointed by it or my imagining Othello entering his bedroom and seeing Desdemona with Cassio. The difference, I submit, between 'imagining Ving' and 'imagining A (or A's) Ving' is, as the very grammar suggests, simply that
154 ANALYSIS between emphasising the Ving itself as the object of imagination and emphasising the agent of Ving as the object. Indeed, Vender himself really takes this view too ('in complying with (1) [sc. "imagine swimming"] you imagine doing something, in complying with (2) [sc. "imagine yourself swimming"] you imagine yourself (or, in other cases, somebody else) doing something'). The more subtle difference between 'imagining A Ving' and 'imagining A's Ving' - for example 'imagine (can you imagine, I can't imagine) me (my) doing a thing like thatY;that is the difference between the participial and the gerundive Ving (a distinction doubted by F. R. Palmer, A Linguistic Study of the English Verb, 1965, ch. 9) - is a difference in emphasis on the agent and on the agent's engagement. Contrast 'Imagine him running a University' and 'Imagine his overlooking a simple point like that'. In other sensory examples, Vender seems to me to have misinterpreted the element of perception. He argues that, for example, 'Imagine the battlefield from above, the statue sideways or the music coming from a distance' are elliptical for 'Imagine seeing the battlefield from above and the statue sideways or hearing the music from a distance' on the ground that one cannot, for example, imagine a thunderbolt from the side or the taste of lemons from above or the Escorial from left to right. Certainly, qualifications such as 'from above, sideways, from a distance' etc. can only go with what is seen or heard; but this is not sufficient to show that to imagine these is to imagine seeing or hearing these. T o imagine, for example, the battlefield from above, the statue sideways or the music from a distance could be, and I think is, to imagine these as seen or heard in this way. But t o imagine X as seen or heard in a certain way is not to imagine seeing or hearing them in this way, but to imagine what they would look or sound like if seen or heard in this way. Similarly, Vendler's thesis that to imagine X, for example an elephant or a thunderbolt, is to imagine seeing or hearing X and, hence, that imagination here is 'restricted to the representation of objects with visual, auditory or otherwise sensory aspects' is also due t o his restricted diet. One can imagine with ease or difficulty, for example, someone's anger, pleasure, surprise, reaction, etc. at the news, the trouble I went to in order to get that present for you, the dangers or difficulties of a certain course of action. Just as Vendler neglects the difference, noted above, between, for example, imagining seeing a lion coming towards me and imagining a lion mating with a tigress, so he neglects the difference between, for example, imagining the look of surprise on a man's face and imagining his surprise and, therefore, of imagining seeing an elephant and imagining an elephant. Hence, he also supports Berkeley's famous denial that one can imagine 'a tree or a house existing by itself, independent of, and unperceived by any mind whatsoever' because he, like Berkeley, equates 'imagining an unseen tree' with 'imagining seeing
WAYS OF SPEAKING OF IMAGINATION
an unseen tree', though Vendler allows 'imagining an unobserved tree'. But though the description one gives of what one imagines when one imagines something visual may usually be in the same terms as a description of what one sees, it does not follow that to imagine something visual is to imagine seeing, or oneself seeing, something visual. Vendler is further mistaken in asserting that 'one cannot imagine numbers, classes, human rights or moral virtues' because they are not perceptual. I can be asked to imagine a number without any fives in it, a class which contained no reference to itself, a human right with no corresponding duty, a moral virtue which is now despised. Incidentally, another way in which Vendler's overemphasis on experience misleads him is in his declaration that one cannot imagine doing or being what one currently is. One can easily imagine Ving when one is Ving provided one does not think (or know) one is Ving, as when one imagines being abandoned in a cave when one has, unknown to one, been abandoned, or imagines being stalked by a wild animal when, unknown to one, one is being stalked. Vendler also links what he calls 'objective' imagining, which he holds occurs both in 'imagining A (or A's) Ving' and in 'imagining X', with picturing. He says that 'imagine' in 'Imagine yourself swimming in that water' can 'be replaced by the verb picture without loss of meaning or grammaticality'. But to this one can object, first, that one cannot sensibly substitute 'picture' for 'imagine' in such examples of 'imagine A (A's) Ving' as 'Imagine Jones('s) spending all that money on a hat', 'Can you imagine me (my) marrying someone like that', 'I can't imagine you (your) agreeing to such a proposal'. Does Vendler want to say that there are two senses of 'imagine', a pictorial and a non-pictorial one? He nowhere suggests this. Secondly, Vendler's alleged synonymity of 'picture' and 'imagine' is inconsistent with the conclusion of two other theses of his. For if, as he holds, 'imagine yourself swimming' is 'nothing but an elliptical product' of 'imagine seeing yourself swimming', then the synonymity of 'picture' and 'imagine' should imply that 'picture yourself swimming' is elliptical for 'picture seeing yourself swimming'. But equally, if, as he also holds, 'picture' 'simply amounts to imagine seeing' (Ryle, op. cit., p. 256, held that 'picturing X' is 'imagining that one sees X'), then the synonymity of 'imagine' and 'picture' should imply that 'picture seeing yourself swimming' ought to amount to 'imagine seeing seeing yourself swimming', which is nonsense. Vendler himself rejects the legitimacy of 'picture seeing A Ving'; but his reason for this is suspect. He says it is because 'picture' simply amounts to 'imagine seeing'. The implausibility of this can be brought out by the analogous example of 'see'. If, perhaps, 'I can't imagine him (his) giving someone &5 to hold his horse' has an analogy in 'I can't see him (his) giving someone &5 to hold his
horse', then the former's alleged equivalent, 'I can't imagine seeing him (his) giving someone $5 to hold his horse' would have an analogy in 'I can't see seeing him (his) giving someone $5 to hold his horse'. It would be wildly implausible to explain this latter nonsense away by assuming that this is a use of 'see' which 'simply amounts to' 'imagine seeing'. Vendler admits that 'imagine' is 'often used in a way which does not fit into the pattern sketched thus far'. But this admission is only made for 'imagine that' and 'imagine what' and it is coupled with two theses, namely that this other use of 'imagine' is linked to the non-sensory and that it is 'semantically quite similar to suppose, think of, consider the possibility, etc.'. T o this I would object, first, that I have argued above that even 'imagine Ving', 'imagine A (or A's) Ving', and 'imagine X' do not fit Vendler's pattern. Secondly, that no evidence has been given - and I would argue at some other time that there is no evidence -for more than one sense of imagine'. Thirdly, 'imagine that' and 'imagine what' are as naturally and commonly used with the sensory as with the non-sensory, as when one is asked, for example, 'to imagine that you are on a palm fringed, coral beached, desert island with a gramophone and ten records' or 'to imagine what would happen if the sound of a fly's wings were magnified a thousand times'. Fourthly, that 'imagine' is never synonymous with 'suppose'. The assertion that it is is an extremely common fallacy perpetrated by a surprising number of postwar writers on imagination, against which I argue elsewhere. Here it is sufficient simply to raise two objections to Vendler's own examples. One is that though we can say both 'imagine' and 'suppose' that there is life outside the Solar system, we can also say, for example, 'I just can't imagine that there is life outside the Solar system', but not 'I just can't suppose that there is life outside the Solar system'. The other is that though we can say 'Imagine what would have happened if Goldwater had been elected President', one cannot say 'Suppose what would have happened i f . . . ', and though one can say 'I can pretty well imagine why he did it', one cannot say 'I can pretty well suppose why he did it'. (Curiously, Annis Flew, 'Images, Supposing and Imagination', Philosophy 28 (1953), pp. 246-54, who also suggested that there is one sense of 'imagine' equivalent to 'suppose', also uses the example, 'Imagine what would happen i f . . . ' without apparently realisin that one cannot even grammatically here substitute 'suppose9.~These linguistic differences are partly due to the fact that imagining, but not supposing, is something one can try, succeed or fail at; something which can be easy or difficult, something one can be good or bad at. There are feats and flights of imagination, but not of supposition. People differ in their powers of imagination, but there are no powers of supposition.
The University, Hull
O ALANR. WHITE 1986