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Imagination and Truth in Aristotle

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 14, Number 3, July 1976
pp. 259-265 | 10.1353/hph.2008.0189

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Imagination and Truth in Aristotle JOYCE ENGMANN THE PURPOSE OF THIS PAPER iS to clarify Aristotle's conception of imagination, 1 and to examine his discussion of images (or "imaginations") as possible bearers of troth- values. 1.0 Aristotle's account of imagination is at first sight confused and inconsistent. A good starting-point is 427627-28: "As for thought, since it is different from per- ceiving and seems to include on the one hand imagination and on the other hupo- l~psis .... ,,2 Here one may take "thought" as a very general capacity, and interpret Aristotle as saying that one form of thought is imagination, another hupol~psis. The meaning of hupol~psis is fortunately fairly constant in Aristotle; it is usually translatable by "judgment" or "belief," and is used interchangeably with doxa. a In 427b16 it is substituted for dianoia. According to Bonitz, dianoia is used of the process of reasoning as distinct from the conclusion thereby arrived at (doxa, hupol~psis); but it is some- times so used (e.g., in 427b15) as to comprise both the process of reasoning and the resulting conclusion. According to Hicks, hupol~psis is not a technical term, and is used in 427b16 because it will include epist~rr~, doxa and phronesis. What, then, is the contrast between the imagination and judgement whose existence is stated at 427b27- 28 and 14-16? (From now on I shall use "judgement" and "belief" to translate hupo- l~psis and doxa respectively.) 1.1 One might take 432a10-13 as being relevant: "But imagination is different from assertion and denial; for truth and falsity involve a combination of thoughts. But x I have adopted the usual translation, "imagination," for cpctvx~xofct. It is not an altogether satisfactory rendering, for two reasons. Firstly, Aristotle uses q~vx~os to refer to acts of imagination and to the contents of such acts rather than to what one may loosely call the faculty of imagination; indeed, for Aristotle q~ctvx~tos was not a faculty at all but a function of the central sense (see the references of fnn. 9 and 10). Thus the word may appear in the plural (e.g., 429a4-6). I have sometimes, though not always, circumvented the awkwardness of "imag- inations" by speaking of "cases of imagination": this is intended simply to correspond to tpct~r~cto~ct~. Secondly, the tpctv-rctoCet which is contemporaneous with or immediately follows on sensation (Beare's "presentation," as distinct from "representation") is more naturally translated "appearance" or "impression": cf. K. Lycos, "Aristotle and Plato on 'Appearing'," Mind LXXIII (1964), 496. But it has seemed better to reflect Aristotle's own usage by retaining a single term throughout. I shall try to show later that scme of the difficulties in his treatment of cpcxv-rctofet arise from the very comprehensiveness of the.. concept. References to Aristotle are to the de Anima except where otherwise specified. Translations of Aristotelian passages are from the Clarendon Aristotle Series, sometimes with slight alter- ations. a De An. 434a16 -- 20, N.E. 1139b17, An. Post. 89a2-4, Met. 1073a17-18, with 1078b11-13. [259] 260 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY what distinguishes the primary thoughts from images? Surely neither these nor any other thoughts will be images, but they will not exist without images." Here it is implied that imagination cannot be true or false because it does not involve a "combination of thoughts"; and that images are presupposed by the primary thoughts whose combina- tion results in assertion or denial. This suggests that the contrast between imagination and judgement is one between simple images (incapable of truth and falsity because uncombined) and forms of assertion and denial which are capable of truth and falsity. This might seem at first sight to be borne out by the first point of difference Aristotle gives between imagination and judgment: "For this state is in our power whenever we wish (for we can bring something before our eyes, as those do who set things out in mnemonic systems and form images of them); but forming beliefs is not within our power; for our belief must be either true or false" (427b17-21). But Aristotle cannot mean...

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