Imagination and Modal Epistemology

Dissertation, New York University (2002)

Peter Kung
Arizona State University
It seems undeniable that we have many items of modal knowledge. Tradition has it that conceivability is the evidence for possibility that gets us to this modal knowledge. But "conceive" cannot mean think, understand, entertain, suppose, or find believable, because none of these are suited to serve as evidence for possibility, and if it is none of these, it is mysterious what conceivability is, and why it is evidence for possibility. I argue that sensory imagination is the most promising candidate for a source of modal evidence. A theory of imaginative content is developed in Chapter One, one which allows what seems undeniable: that we do imagine the impossible. This raises a challenge to explain why, in the face of our ability to imagine the impossible, we should accept imagination as modal evidence. The predominant response, developed by Saul Kripke, limits the scope of imagination to preserve the link between imagination and what is possible. In Chapter Two I argue that the Kripkean theory is best thought of as an error theory: when we take ourselves to imagine, e.g., water without H2O, or Mark Twain and Sam Clemens in a fistfight, we are mistaken. I articulate and defend an alternative modal epistemology, one that exploits the crucial difference between assigned and basic content of imagining. The evidential value of some imaginings is undermined by independent considerations about the connection between assigned content and ignorance. Instances in which we imagine the impossible are all cases where these independent considerations give us reason to doubt the imagining's value as modal evidence. The conclusions about assigned content are applied in Chapter Three to the first-person imaginings thought to be crucial in philosophy of mind: the imaginability of zombies, and the imaginability of being a disembodied soul. It is argued that such imaginings offer no evidence favoring dualism over materialism. Finally, alternatives to imagination as the source for modal evidence are discussed in Chapter Four. I explore both direct intuition and a priori-based accounts, and conclude that neither offers a genuine alternative to the imagination
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,512
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Imaginative Vividness.Kind Amy - 2017 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 3 (1):32-50.
Imaginative Resistance and Variation.Eric Peterson - 2019 - British Journal of Aesthetics 59 (1):67-80.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Art and Modal Knowledge.Dustin Stokes - 2006 - In Dominic Lopes & Matthew Kieran (eds.), Knowing Art: Essays in Epistemology and Aesthetics. Springer.
Modal Epistemology.Peter Van Inwagen - 1998 - Philosophical Studies 92 (1):67--84.
Understanding and Essence.Anand Jayprakash Vaidya - 2010 - Philosophia 38 (4):811-833.
Imagery and Imagination.Amy Kind - 2005 - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Modal Epistemology and the Rationalist Renaissance.George Bealer - 2002 - In Tamar Szabo Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Conceivability and Possibility. Oxford University Press. pp. 71-125.


Added to PP index

Total views
2 ( #1,454,056 of 2,520,893 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #405,457 of 2,520,893 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes