Reason and imagination

Arvind asked:

Are reason and imagination two separate, antithetical entities?

Are there some situations or contexts in which they get interrelated?

Answer by Helier Robinson

They are separate but not antithetical. First we need to distinguish the concrete from the abstract. The concrete is any quality known through the senses, such as colours, sounds, smells, tastes, hard and soft, hot and cold, heavy and light, rough and smooth, etc. The abstract is anything that has no concrete qualities. Imagination deals with the concrete, in the form of concrete memories and concrete images. Reason, or thought, deals with abstract ideas. Nominalists are people who deny that there is anything abstract, so for them all thought is ‘silent speech’. Conceptualists declare that there are abstract ideas, which, when bonded to words, form concepts; thought is then manipulation of concepts. Most conscious activity is a mixture of imagination and thought, so they are not antithetical.

The question as to who are correct, nominalists or conceptualists, can be decided by considering relations. Consider the example of a cup of coffee. You can see the cup and the coffee, and you can also see that the coffee is in the cup. The in is a relation, having the coffee and the cup as its terms, or relata. So you can see the in, but if you ask what it looks like you find that it does not have any concrete properties at all. So, if it is real then it must be abstract. And it must be real because if it wasn’t you would not be able to drink the coffee. Relations have in fact given philosophers a great deal of difficulty throughout history, to the extent of some of them declaring all relations to be entia rationis, or things of the mind, hence unreal. The widely accepted view these days is that modern logic and set theory have solved the problems with relations, by defining them within set theory in such a way as to make them concrete. In my opinion this fails because it assumes the existence of far too many relations before defining a relation. My own view is that most relations are real, abstract entities, and that relations in thought are abstract ideas.


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