The Puzzle of Make-Believe about Pictures: Can One Imagine a Perception to be Different?

Wednesday 13 November 2019, 16:00-18:00

Senate House, Room 246


This paper will use Kendall Walton’s approach as a case study to probe the relationship between imagination and perception of pictures. Walton’s core idea is that pictures evoke a complex experience that is both perceptual and imaginative and he offers a specific proposal to explain that we seem to see both the picture (or vehicle) and what it depicts: one imagines of one’s ordinary seeing of an artwork that it is an ordinary seeing of objects at a different spatial location, such as ships on the high seas. I will suggest that Walton’s approach is important in how it emphasizes the holistic nature of our response to pictures: it proposes constitutive interconnections between perception, imagination, understanding and emotion. But I will argue that Walton’s emphasis on make-believe accentuates the imaginative rather than the perceptual dimension of the experience and that it is problematic how to understand the specific proposal. That proposal appeals to the complexity allowed by the notion of intentional content. There is no difficulty, in principle, in a complex intentional content formed from the contents of two ‘states.’ But theories of perception increasingly attempt to capture what is special about perception by explaining how objects ‘figure’ in perceptual experiences. I will examine Walton’s core idea in terms of the range of contemporary theories of perception – from intentional to hybrid to relational ones. This will give us a better understanding of how imagination can combine with perception when it comes to visual art both with a view to Walton’s project and more generally.