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Towards a dual process epistemology of imagination

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Stuart Michael T.,
Project Imagination in Science: What is it, how do we learn from it, and how can we improve it?
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Synthese
Title of proceedings Synthese
DOI 10.1007/s11229-019-02116-w


Sometimes we learn through the use of imagination. The epistemology of imagination asks how this is possible. One barrier to progress on this question has been a lack of agreement on how to characterize imagination; for example, is imagination a mental state, ability, character trait, or cognitive process? This paper argues that we should characterize imagination as a cognitive ability, exercises of which are cognitive processes. Following dual process theories of cognition developed in cognitive science, the set of imaginative processes is then divided into two kinds: one that is unconscious, uncontrolled, and effortless, and another that is conscious, controlled, and effortful. This paper outlines the different epistemological strengths and weaknesses of the two kinds of imaginative process, and argues that a dual process model of imagination helpfully resolves or clarifies issues in the epistemology of imagination and the closely related epistemology of thought experiments.