Conference Abstracts


Keynote Address
Imagination as Cognition

Tim Williamson
Oxford University

Abstract: According to the usual stereotypes, knowledge and imagination are opposites, one concerned with fact, the other with fiction. I will argue that such a contrast rests on a radical misunderstanding of the nature of imagination, which is a reality-oriented faculty whose primary function is cognitive, whatever other uses we may choose to put it to.
Believing in Stories
Stacie Friend
Heythrop College
University of London

Abstract: There is a widespread assumption that we can acquire knowledge from fiction, including propositional knowledge of facts. At the same time, it is standard to draw an epistemic distinction between fiction and non-fiction, derived from the common assumption that fictions invite imagining rather than belief. From this point of view, we should be surprised by studies that show that for some kinds of factual information, people are at least if not more likely to believe what they read if a text is labelled 'fiction' than if it is labelled 'non-fiction'. I consider the implications of these studies for how we can learn facts from fiction.
Models and Modal Epistemology
Jonathan Ichikawa
University of British Columbia

Abstract: I distinguish two projects in modal epistemology—one about how we come to know modal truths, and one about why we have the ability so to come to know. The latter, I suggest, is amenable to an evolutionary treatment in terms of general capacities developed to evaluate quotidian modal claims. I compare this approach to a recent suggestion in a similar spirit by Timothy Williamson, emphasizing counterfactual conditionals instead of quotidian modals; I find some reasons to prefer the quotidian modals approach, and none favoring Williamson’s counterfactual-based approach. I conclude with a suggestion that the remaining questions both approaches leave unanswered ought not to be too troubling.
Thought Experiments in Ethics
Peter Kung
Pomona College

Abstract Forthcoming
On Choosing What to Imagine
Peter Langland-Hassan
University of Cincinnati

Abstract: An important feature of imagination is its freedom. What we imagine is, in some sense, up to us. Here imagination is unlike perception and belief, as we cannot generally perceive or believe whatever we want. However, like perception and belief, imagination is used to guide a wide range of practical reasoning tasks. This suggests that imagination must be subject to constraints of some kind. Theories of imagination thus face a real challenge in explaining how a kind of mental process or faculty can be both “free” and useful. In this talk I will categorize recent accounts of imagination by their answers to the question: what goes on, cognitively speaking, when we choose what to imagine? My first goal is to achieve some clarity on the range of possible answers. I will then assess the prospects of each strategy for simultaneously explaining the usefulness of imagination.
What is Imagining What Others Think For?
Heidi Maibom
Carelton University

Abstract: Freudian views maintain that dreams teach us about ourselves because they tap into our unconscious. Dreams are not premonitions about what is to come or messages from Gods. They teach us not about the world, but about how we view the world; about who we are. I argue for a Freudian turn when it comes to how to interpret the empathic imagination. Canonical views suggest that we gain knowledge of how others think and feel by imagining being in their position. I argue that we learn more about ourselves through the empathic imagination than we learn about others. Our deeper attitudes, biases, etc. shine through our empathic attempts, and limit them. This is partly because we project our own thoughts and feeling on to others, and partly because our state of mind affects rather profoundly how we think of them. This is not to say that we cannot gain understanding of others through the empathic imagination. We can. But the imaginative effort does not produce substantive new knowledge of others. Usually, we only imagine within the bounds of what we know. But often we do not know what we know. Our imagination helps bring it out. It plays midwife to our latent knowledge.
Art, Imagination, and Self-Knowledge
Aaron Meskin
University of Leeds

Abstract: Despite scepticism about the cognitive value of literature, it is often said that we learn about ourselves from literature and that this is part of its value. So, for example, Harold Bloom claims that we read “to strengthen the self, and to learn its authentic interests.” And Simon Blackburn has suggested that literature has “a good chance of telling us more about our own minds.” In this paper I explore the ways in which art might provide us with forms of self-knowledge through imaginative engagement.
Mental Images and the Multiple Use Thesis
Kathleen Stock
University of Sussex

Abstract: In this paper I shall seek to undermine a common but mistaken view of the ontology of mental images, the 'multiple use thesis', according to which the very same image-type associated with a given imaginative episode equally might have served in an imaginative episode with different overall content. I shall seek to present an alternative to it. Amongst several considerations which will be presented against the multiple use thesis will be the claim that it does not fit with the way images function in the context of gaining knowledge of counterfactual conditionals.
The Epistemic Dominance of Vision and Visual Imagery
Dustin Stokes
University of Toronto

Abstract: Vision often dominates other perceptual modalities both at the level of experience and at the level of judgment. In the well-known McGurk effect, for example, one’s auditory experience is consistent with the visual stimuli but not the auditory stimuli, and naïve subjects’ judgments follow their experience. Structurally similar effects occur for other modalities (e.g. rubber hand illusions). Given the robustness of this visual dominance, one might not be surprised that visual imagery often dominates imagery in other modalities. One might be surprised, however, that visual imagery often dominates perception in other modalities. This more controversial claim is motivated both by empirical data and by introspection. Some think of perception-perception visual dominance as epistemically good, holding that cases in which visual dominance misleads us (e.g. McGurk and rubber hand illusions) are cases in which the perceptual system resolves conflicts according to principles that are generally reliable. Here, we explore support for the more controversial claim that imagery-perception visual dominance is epistemically good. We suggest that, when the task is to identify objects (say, the source of a sound or a smell), the visual, whether perception or imagination, should dominate other modalities. Put another way, when identifying objects, one should go and look or, short of that, visually imagine candidate objects, and then follow the visual, even against conflicting perceptions from other modalities. In cases of conflict, one ought to identify objects visually and, typically, one does.


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