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Knowledge, Fiction and Imagination, by David Novitz ; xiii 8c 262 pp. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987, $34.95. Discussed by Peter Lamarque NoviTZ ranges widely and confidendy over an impressive field of philosophical topics: the foundations of knowledge, the nature of imagination, realism and idealism, skepticism and relativism, deconstruction , emotions, literary interpretation, cognitive values in literature, the theory of metaphor, the identification of cultures, and the role of narrative in personal identity. A powerful central theme, which gives the book its coherence, is the exposition and defense ofwhat Novitz calls "romantic realism." Broadly speaking this is the conjunction of two lines of thought: one (the romantic part) stresses the ascendancy of the creative imagination in the acquisition of knowledge, the other (the realist part) defends a genuine objectivity of fact and meaning, in contrast to all forms of subjectivism or relativism. The project of reconciling these potentially incompatible positions is exciting and ambitious. Novitz is aware of the tensions between the two parts and recognizes "the romantic abyss,"just a short step away, threatening extreme forms of idealism and relativism. He lures us away from these "excesses" with reassuring commonsense, supported by careful philosophical reasoning andjudicious appeal to historicalbackground. Whatever the final verdict on the project, the book provides, at the least, clear evidence that you don't have to go woolly minded in defending romanticism or highlight365 366Philosophy and Literature ing the imaginative aspects of thought. Novitz combines a sympathetic appreciation of the literary arts with a rigorous attention to argument; his book brings out the very best in the analytic approach to philosophy of literature. Let us look first at the romantic side of romantic realism. Novitz attributes a central, even indispensable, role to the imagination in all of the following: the acquisition and growth of knowledge, the creation of literary works, emotional response to fiction, literary interpretation, the creation and interpretation of metaphor, and the provision of cultural and individual identity. Nor are these unrelated. Literary fiction and metaphor are products of that very same "fanciful imagination" that, according to Novitz, is fundamental to all knowledge. Thus it is that works of literary fiction and individual metaphors can become vehicles of knowledge and even instruments of cultural identity. Novitz's romanticism involves an epistemological theory (imagination is required for knowledge) and a dieory of literature (imaginative literature can be a vehicle of knowledge). Let us look at these two substantive theses. My main worry is not so much with the theories in themselves but with how they connect. What is the relation between the use of the imagination to acquire basic knowledge and its use to create literary fictions? The claim that imagination is central in the acquisition of knowledge is familiar in epistemology. It is most notably associated with Hume and Kant. For Hume the imagination can supplywhat reason cannot, namely a connectedness among our ideas which yields a coherent, objective, causally ordered world. For Kant imagination is an integral part of "transcendental synthesis" whereby the "manifold of perceptions" is brought under objective concepts. Novitz acknowledges these historical forerunners but, I think surprisingly, wants to distance himself from them. He says litde about Kant but develops at length his differences with Hume. The main, alleged, difference with Hume lies in a distinction, central to Novitz's enterprise, between "constructive" and "fanciful" imagination . In brief, Novitz sees Hume as attributing a cognitive role only to constructive imagination while denigrating fanciful imagination. Novitz, in contrast, argues that the fanciful imagination is indispensable to knowledge. Peter Lamarque367 I am not convinced there is a fundamental difference here. For one thing, Hume does not believe there are two kinds of imagination, one "the foundation of all our thoughts and actions," the odier giving rise to the "loose and indolent reveries of a casde builder." Rather these are two uses of one and the same faculty, the one commendable (and constructive ), being governed by sound and universal principles, the other to be disparaged ("fanciful," in a derogatory sense), being governed by "weak and irregular" principles. Novitz wants to have it both ways: to insist on a constructive use for "flights of fancy." In itself this is an attractive thesis, seemingly leaving...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 365-374
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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