This week at The Junkyard, we're hosting a symposium on Margherita Arcangeli’s recent book: Supposition and the Imaginative Realm (Routledge, 2018). See here for an introduction from Margherita. Commentaries and replies appear Tuesday through Thursday.
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Commentary from Amy Kind.
It’s a pleasure to be taking part in this symposium on Margherita Arcangeli’s Supposition and the Imaginative Realm, a book that is sure to generate much interest and discussion. As Margherita indicated in her opening post for the symposium, she ultimately defends a view according to which supposition is a sui generis type of imagination, in particular, it is acceptance-like imagination. Though such a view had previously been hinted at by authors such as Kevin Mulligan, as far as I know Margherita is the first to develop this kind of view in detail.
Margherita’s argument for this view consists of three stages. First, she explores three sets of considerations that have been put forth to distinguish imagination from supposition. Next, she explores various features of supposition itself. Finally, she contrasts her view about the relationship between imagination and supposition with several others and argues that her view best accommodates the data that has emerged from the previous stages of the argument. In this post, I want to focus in on the first stage of her argument and, in particular, the first of the three considerations that she discusses, namely, the considerations arising from phenomenology.
Margherita notes that many philosophers of imagination, myself included, have suggested that imagination and supposition can be distinguished from one another on phenomenological grounds: while imagining has phenomenology, supposition does not. Margherita interprets this claim as follows:
PhenC: All imaginings involve a phenomenology, where no supposition does.
As she notes, proponents of PhenC might well grant that certain instances of supposition are accompanied by phenomenology. But because the phenomenology in such cases is a mere accompaniment to the suppositional act, they are not taken to be counterexamples to PhenC.
To argue against PhenC, Margherita first suggests that it is ambiguous between four different readings. She then suggests that each of the four readings is problematic in some way. The four different readings arise from distinguishing four different kinds of phenomenology that imagination might involve: sensory phenomenology, experiential phenomenology, experiential plus cognitive phenomenology, or a primitive imaginative phenomenology. In what follows I’m going to focus on the first two readings that she distinguishes and I’ll push back against her rejection of them.
To start, though, it might help to consider briefly why proponents of PhenC view supposition as lacking phenomenology. It’s perhaps easiest to see with an example. This semester I am teaching logic, and just last week I was teaching my students how to do conditional proof (in the system I use, it’s called arrow-introduction). To motivate the need for this rule, I had them consider the following argument:
If Harry faints, then Draco laughs.
If Draco laughs, then Harry is ashamed.
Therefore, if Harry faints, then Harry is ashamed.
I then discussed how we might we reason this through informally. As I suggested, we might do something like this:
Take the two premises. Now suppose for the sake of argument that Harry faints. Given the first premise, it now follows Draco laughs. And from this, along with the second premise, it now follows that Harry is ashamed. It follows from the supposition that Harry laughs that Harry is ashamed, in other words, if Harry faints then Harry is ashamed.
This enabled me to go on to show them how our rule for conditional proof worked. But for our purposes here, that’s not of special interest. Rather, I use this example to give a concrete example of a case involving supposing, i.e., a case of informally offering or engaging with a conditional proof. As far as I am concerned, for someone to comply with the instruction to suppose for the sake of argument that Harry faints, they don’t have to do very much at all. All they need do is bring that content before their mind. It’s a very easy activity. They don’t need to have any kind of deep understanding of the content. They don’t need to produce a mental image of Harry. No real effort is involved. And this very minimalistic mental activity is all that’s needed for one to work through an informal conditional proof. Of course, one might do more than the minimum required. But in order to comply with the instruction, in order to suppose that Harry faints, one doesn’t have to do very much.
In contrast, something more seems to be required to imagine that Harry faints – or at least, so say proponents of PhenC. In my published work, I have often called upon a passage from Descartes to help illustrate this point:
... if I want to think of a chiliagon, although I understand that it is a figure consisting of a thousand sides just as well as I understand the triangle to be a three-sided figure, I do not in the same way imagine the thousand sides or see them as if they were present before me. ... But suppose I am dealing with a pentagon: I can of course understand the figure of a pentagon, just as I can the figure of a chiliagon, without the help of the imagination; but I can also imagine a pentagon, by applying the mind’s eye to its five sides and the area contained within them. And in doing this I notice quite clearly that imagination requires a peculiar effort of mind which is not required for understanding. (Descartes 1641/1986: 50-1)
Set aside the question of whether Descartes is right that we can’t imagine a chiliagon. What I like about this passage is the way it motivates the claim that imagining requires something more than other related mental states. (Using Descartes’ evocative phrase, it requires a peculiar effort of mind.) In Descartes’ case, the contrast is with understanding. For our purposes here, the contrast is with supposition. Whatever exactly this peculiar effort of mind is, proponents of PhenC take it to involve phenomenology. And proponents of the first two readings of PhenC that Margherita distinguishes – what we might call the sensory/experiential approach – take the phenomenology in question to be sensory and/or experiential phenomenology.
But, argues Margherita (and here I realize I am presenting a very compressed version of her argument), even if supposition lacks sensory/experiential phenomenology, that doesn’t mean that it lacks phenomenology altogether, because it might involve cognitive phenomenology. Given that she also thinks that that there are good reasons to doubt that cognitive phenomenology is “substantially different” (23) from other types of experiential phenomenology, she suggests that PhenC ends up either being unmotivated or empty (empty because, even if true, it doesn’t provide us with meaningful way to distinguish imagination from supposition).
It’s here that I think we disagree. This disagreement probably derives from my hesitancy about cognitive phenomenology, which is a topic for another day, or another blog, so let’s just assume that there is such a thing as cognitive phenomenology. As best as I can make out, the cognitive phenomenology involved in supposing would then be what occurs from having the content occurrent before the mind. But, again, as best as I can make out, that’s the same cognitive phenomenology that’s involved in having an occurrent belief. The phenomenology isn’t due to the fact that it’s supposing; the phenomenology is due to the fact that a content is occurrent before the mind. And it seems to me that this gives the proponent of the sensory/experiential approach what they need to defend PhenC – or to defend its spirit, if not its letter. In saying the imagining and not supposing has phenomenology, what’s meant is that imagining and not supposing has some kind of phenomenology over and above whatever comes merely from having a thought be occurrent to the mind. This rough sketch needs working out, but I do think it protects PhenC from at least some of Margherita’s worries.
One last comment, before I close. In her discussion of PhenC, Margherita takes me to be a proponent of the first of the four readings of PhenC that she distinguishes, i.e, the view that imagining has sensory phenomenology. Given what I actually say in the paper of mine that she discusses (Kind 2001), and given the way she carves things up, I see why she puts me in this camp. But I think I actually am either somewhere in between this first reading and the second reading she distinguishes, i.e., the view that imagining has experiential phenomenology, or a proponent of the second reading. At the time I was writing Kind 2001, I was trying to use “image” in an extended sense, so that it applied to things beyond visual images to auditory images, gustatory images, and so on. One might think “sensory presentation” would be a better word than “image.” I think I also (perhaps foolishly) thought that the term “image” could extend yet further, so that we might have something like pain images or emotional images. Yes, not quite sensory, I know, and this isn’t the place to work this out fully. But I did just want to get that clarification on the record.
As I said at the start, it’s been a delight to have the opportunity to delve into Margherita’s book, and I look forward to the discussion that follows!
Response to Amy Kind from Margherita Arcangeli
I find myself much in agreement with Descartes’ idea that imagination involves “a peculiar effort of the mind” compared to understanding. In fact, this is tied to another issue I discuss in the book, namely how imagination and supposition relate to entertaining (Chapter 5).
Arguably, what Descartes calls “understanding” can be identified with “entertainment”. As I pointed out in my opening post, this mental phenomenon is characterised by neutral intentionality: when a subject entertains that p (say, Harry faints), she has a neutral stance towards p. To use different philosophical jargon, entertainment does not involve a position, an intentional force, a proprietary way of apprehending the given content. The contrast here is with other mental phenomena, such as belief, desire or perception. When a subject believes that Harry faints, her mental state represents or presents that Harry faints as true. In the case of desire the given content is (re)presented as good. If a subject perceives that Harry faints, her mental state (re)presents that Harry faints as present to her senses. Neutral intentionality may be seen as showing up at the phenomenological level. If I am entertaining that Harry faints, without being in any other psychological attitude, I may, upon reflection, be aware of the neutral stance I am taking toward the given content. Moreover, the phenomenology of entertainment seems to be nothing but the phenomenology of merely having an occurrent thought, given that there is no intentional force to colour, so to speak, how the given content is (re)presented.
Imagination, contrary to understanding or entertainment, shows a “positive”, rather than “neutral” intentionality. Descartes’ “peculiar effort of the mind” evokes the idea that imagining is a proprietary way of apprehending a content. The issue then becomes that of figuring out the intentional force shown by imagination. No matter how this intentional force is spelled out, in her commentary Amy suggests that it shows up at the phenomenological level and makes the phenomenology of imagination richer than the phenomenology of merely having a thought occurrent to the mind. When a subject imagines, there is a phenomenological aspect tied to how she is apprehending the given content (i.e., via imagination), which cannot be reduced to what she is imagining. Whatever the intentional force of imagination is, it colours the phenomenology of imagination.
What about supposition? Amy maintains that the phenomenology of supposition, if there is any, does not seem to go beyond the phenomenology of merely having a thought occurrent to the mind. Thus, following the considerations above, supposition would not show a “peculiar effort of the mind”, an intentional force, a proprietary way of apprehending the given content. Moreover, she suggests that we should interpret in this way the phenomenological contrast between supposition and imagination advocated by many philosophers (what I dub “the Phenomenology Claim” – PhenC for short): imagination, contrary to supposition, shows a phenomenology coloured by its intentional force.
I believe that putting things this way does not do justice to supposition, conflating it with entertainment. Although in the book I have not compared these two mental phenomena with respect to phenomenology, some of what I say against the reduction of supposition to entertainment can have bearing on a phenomenological comparison. I claim that supposition does not show neutral intentionality. In supposing, we are not neutrally bringing a content to the mind, but we are rather giving an intentional force to the given content: what is supposed is (re)presented as if it were true. This is what we do when we suppose; it might typically seem very easy and effortless, but it is not always so: we can entertain contents that we find hard to take as if they were true. It can be argued that, similarly to the case of imagination, the intentional force shown by supposition colours its phenomenology. On this suggestion PhenC turns out to be false: also supposition involves a phenomenology enriched with a phenomenological aspect tied to its intentional force, thus going beyond the phenomenology of merely having a thought occurrent to the mind.
It is open to the defender of PhenC to claim that imagination and supposition still differ phenomenologically insofar as they have different intentional forces which colour their phenomenologies differently. In other words, imagination and supposition would be different ways of apprehending a content and this would have an impact on their phenomenologies. In the book I suggest a version of PhenC along these lines, namely PhenC-I (“All imaginings involve imaginative phenomenology, whereas no supposition does”). At a closer look, however, PhenC-I turns out to be largely empty insofar as we lack an account of the nature and scope of imaginative phenomenology (on the phenomenology of sensory imagination see Kriegel 2015 and Kind 2016). Therefore, the question of whether supposition has or lacks imaginative phenomenology is, to say the least, underspecified.
Kind, A. (2016) Imaginative Phenomenology and Existential Status. Rivista Internazionale di Filosofia e Psicologia, 7 (2), 273-278.
Kriegel, U. (2015). The Varieties of Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.