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June 21st, 2003

Imaginative Resistance

I have drafted a new version of the imaginative resistance paper. Sadly, I lost my instructions for how to upload anything to my main webpage. Happily, I still have blogs to use. So Iíve put the paper on a subpage within this site. It can be found using the following link:

Fictional Furniture Foughts

I had a rather long list of names I tried out for various reasons before settling on the present one. (Which is not, I hasten to add, Fictional Furniture Foughts, as amusing as that may be.) This was what the list on my sketchpad looked like when I was done scribbling with names.
Psycho Semantics

Summer in Winter, Winter in Springtime

Ideas Sleep Furiously

Electric Gaslight

Quickly Standing Still

One Heavy February

The Silence was Deafening

How Not to Tell a Story

Zero Secrets of Successful Authors

Six Secrets of Unsuccessful Authors

Furniture in Fiction and Fictional Furniture

Fictional Errors from Cervantes to Reifenstahl

Furniture of Fictional Universes

The Caretakerís Daughter

Good Morning Good Morning

With a Little Help from my Friends

(A response that stressed the role of fiction in moral education could well be called Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite.)

Did Romeo Love Juliet?

When Armchairs Attack

I doubt many of those are actually amusing, but all of them seemed like good ideas at the time, even the ones that were taken in their entirety from song titles. I would like to use the first name for a paper on representation in fiction sometime, but maybe Iíll save it for a paper about representation in film.

Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized

2 Comments »

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2 Responses to “Imaginative Resistance”

  1. Kelly Trogdon says:

    Imaginative Resistance and “in virtue of”

    Your solution to the puzzle of imaginative resistance, as I interpret it, is this. You claim that when one imagines a chair, one imagines a specific kind of chair, for example, an armchair, a dining room chair, or a classroom chair. You conclude that when one imagines that a non-fundamental property like being a chair is instantiated, the content of oneís imagining will be to some extent more specific than just the object imagined having the property.

    Death on the Freeway invites us to imagine a morally deviant world, w, in which Craigís shooting of Jack and Jill is morally good, and this invitation invokes moral imaginative resistance. You claim that since an implicit dictum of the story is for us to imagine w without adding any details not supplied by the story (because the story has an implicit ďthatís allĒ clause), when we imagine w, we arenít supposed to imagine anything that would make what Craig did morally acceptable. In other words, we arenít supposed to imagine anything by virtue of which Craigís action would be morally right in that world.

    You claim that we canít imagine w because, just as we canít imagine a chair without imagining a particular chair, we canít imagine an action being morally right without imagining what it is by virtue of which the action is, or is supposed to be, right: ď[W]e canít simply imagine moral goodness in the abstract, to imagine it we have to imagine a particular kind of goodness.Ē

    Here is my problem. Suppose I ask you to imagine that arbitrarily enslaving innocent people is morally good by virtue of the fact that turtles arenít ceiling fans. In this case, not only are you allowed to imagine what it is that is supposed to make the moral claim true, but you are required to do so! There is imaginative resistance in this case, despite the fact that you are allowed to imagine the property by virtue of which the moral claim is supposed to be true.

    You might respond as follows. The ďthatís allĒ clause in Death on the Freeway says in particular that one isnít supposed to imagine what in fact could make Craigís shooting morally good. But I donít see how such a move would help, for we get the problem of imaginative resistance all over again: why do I have a difficult time imaging a world in which arbitrarily enslaving innocent people is morally good by virtue of the fact that turtles arenít ceiling fans?

  2. Brian Weatherson says:

    Good questions. Here’s my first pass thoughts.

    I hadn’t thought about imagining the ‘in virtue of’ relations being different to what they actually are. It seems I’m committed to it being impossible that one imagines ‘p is true in virtue of q’ unless this is really true. I have one reason for thinking this is OK, and one less well-formed worry.

    In general I don’t think we can imagine very general abstract things. I’m not even sure we can imagine universal truths holding, such as that all cats in the universe are brown. I think we can imagine some specific facts holding (a brown cat here, a brown cat there) and suppose that further general facts hold, but we don’t imagine the general or abstract fact as such. So I don’t think we can imagine that slavery is unjust, any more than we can imagine slavery is just. We can just imagine particular unjust acts of slavery. So in general I don’t think we can imagine things of the level of abstraction of ‘p is true in virtue of q’.

    But I don’t want to rest too much weight on that. And obviously I don’t want to rest much weight on the claim that ‘p is true in virtue of q’ might be impossible, or a priori false, since I don’t think they matter too much to conceivability.

    I think what I need (and I don’t know off the top of my head how to formulate) is a principle about what is needed as a precondition for imagination, and that is (something like) a principle that says how imaginations involving non-primitive concepts, i.e. concepts that we can’t directly imagine being instantiated, are related to imaginations involving primitive concepts. I think the principle has to be something like – those relationships have to be just as they actually are. But it’s not obvious to me whether that principle is too strong, too weak, totally misguided or on the right track.