Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Imagining That" - Imagining as a Propositional Attitude

What are imaginings?

This blog posting is actually a description of my thinking as I came across what I found to be an interesting philosophical question.

The story began yesterday, when I wrote on the difference between beliefs and desires.

Beliefs, I said, had truth-makers but failed to motivate. Desires, on the other hand, do not have truth-makers and do motivate.

On the issue of truth-makers, if somebody says "I believe that P" a reasonable response is, "It is a mistake to believe that P, since 'P' is false."

On the other hand, if somebody says "I desire that P" it makes no sense to say "It is a mistake to desire that P because P is false." It makes no sense, in other words, to say, "It is a mistake for you to desire to be free of pain since, for you, 'I am free of pain' is currently false."

On the other hand, the belief that one is in pain provides no reason to get rid of it. It is the aversion to pain that provides the motivation. Similarly, the belief that there is chocolate cake in the kitchen provides no reason to go eat it - it is the desire to eat chocolate cake that provides motivation.

I argued in that post that a mental state that has a truth-maker and which motivates is problematic. Trying to make sense of an attitude that both motivates and has a truth-maker (other than a belief that something stands in a particular relationship to a desire that provides motivation) simply raises far more questions than it answers. I assert that such things do not exist.

I then began to wonder if there are mental attitudes that both lack an intrinsic motivation and lack an intrinsic motivation.

Let us imagine a purple dog with yellow spots.

This does not have a truth-maker. In other words, there is no sense in saying, "It is wrong to imagine a purple dog with yellow spots because there is no purple dog with yellow spots."

This also does not provide any intrinsic motivation. Once a person imagines a purple dog with yellow spots, the next question is, "Now what?" There is no call to do anything.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that, while I pay a great deal of attention to beliefs and desires, I agree that there are other mental states - other than beliefs and desires - that influence intentional actions. I have included in this set "habit" and "memory".

Another mental state that seems necessary to explain human behavior is "imaginings" or "let's pretend" - propositional attitudes that lack both a truth marker and a motivation.

Now, being the curious person that I am, I next wanted to see if anybody has written anything on the idea of imaginings as propositional attitudes. Towards that end, I consult Google.

My search brings up a 2014 PHD thesis, A Pluralistic Account of Propositional Imagination" by Michael Joseph Ferreira.

The thesis begins with what Ferreira called, "default cognitive account of propositional imagination". Ferreira reports that his intention is to argue against a simple propositional account of imaginings because, "...recent efforts to provide a unified cognitive theory of propositional imagination have failed ... because there is no unified phenomenon of which to give an account."

Apparently, there is a literature on propositional imaginings that introduce some complexity to the issue.

Some of that complexity can be found in my original account of imaginings. I mentioned both imagining that a purple dog with yellow spots exists, and "let's pretend" that a purple dog with yellow spots exists. These are not precisely the same thing. "Let's pretend" is an invitation to act as if one is in a world where the proposition "there is a purple dog with yellow spots" is true. Stage acting, for example, involves more than just imagining. It falls more into the real of "let's pretend."

Yet, I think we can define a general category of imaginings - a category under which a number of more specific types (such as "let's pretend") live. What this general category has in common is that they lack truth-makers and they fail to provide motivation.

Now that we know what imaginings do not do, what is it that they do?

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