Jennifer McMahon

Jennifer McMahon

University of Adelaide


When Imagining is Believing, without Diversion nor Delusion: A Cognitive Aesthetic Formalism

Adelaide Workshop 2017

Given that art as art engages imagination and art as art increases understanding by providing “insights”, then imagining can provide insights. Furthermore, as “insight” constitutes belief and influences behaviour, then assuming that art as art can be insightful implies that imagination can ground belief. However, on the one hand, imagining when treated as belief is a case of delusion (Egan 2010), and on the other, research has shown how successfully humans quarantine imagining from belief (Currie and Ravenscroft 2002, Leslie 1987 etc.). This suggests that either art as art conveys information like any other form of communication, hence not especially imaginatively; or it does engage us imaginatively and as such has no lasting effect on knowledge or behaviour unless we are delusional. On the contrary, recent theories of imagination (e.g. Gendler 2006, Schellenberg 2013) provide the resources to argue that art as art can be insightful but this argument involves rejecting the standard cognitive-value-of-art type accounts (e.g. Young 2001) in favour of one that focuses on the expressive and formal qualities of artworks. I argue that art does not provide us with new facts or knowledge because artistic representations must be found plausible or normatively valid to begin with, in order to win our cooperation to imagine. The sense in which art as art can be insightful is through imaginative engagement that restructures or reconfigures schemata of already held beliefs through which we subsequently can experience (notice, select and ascribe meaning and significance to objects) afresh.