Imagination and Belief in Action
Imagination and belief are obviously different. Imagining that you have won the lottery is not quite the same as believing that you have won. But what is the difference? According to a standard view in the contemporary debate, they differ in two key functional respects. First, with respect to the cognitive inputs to which they respond: imaginings do not respond to real-world evidence as beliefs do. Second, with respect to the behavioural outputs that they produce: imaginings do not motivate us to act as beliefs do. I argue that this view is mistaken in one important respect. The distinction between imagination and belief does lie at the functional level; but the relevant functional difference does not concern behavioural outputs – since, in spite of appearances, imaginings and beliefs motivate us to act (and react) in the same ways. To see the difference, we need to focus on the inputs side – and, relatedly, on the sorts of inferential relations that imaginings and beliefs bear to each other. I show that this view does not have the absurd consequences that it may prima facie seem to have; on the contrary, it has important implications for our understanding of how the mind works.
KeywordsImagination Belief Action Motivation Dispositions
For helpful discussions of the ideas in this paper, I am grateful to audiences at Philosophy of Mind and Language Seminars at the University of Milan, the 2017 SSPP Conference in Savannah (GA), the Queen’s College Philosophy of Mind Colloquium at the University of Cambridge, the 3rd International Conference on Natural Cognition at the University of Macau, the Belief, Imagination, and Delusion Conference at the University of Birmingham, and the Belief and Imagination in Fiction Conference at the University of Turin. I also owe special thanks to Tim Bayne, Greg Currie, Dimitria Gatzia, Alex Geddes, Aaron Meskin, Bence Nanay, Stefano Predelli, Lu Teng, and an anonymous referee of this journal, for their really helpful feedback on previous drafts of this paper.
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