Hacker and Bennett on Mental Imagery

The Indeterminacy of Translation and Innate Concep

Ordinary Language Philosophy and Mental Imagery

Hacker and Bennett both argue against claims that imagery depictational. This view strongly contrasts with the experimental work of Kossyln and Ganis who claim that their neuroscientific research shows that topographically organised neuronal configurations which map on to visual patterns in the world show that our imagery is in fact depictational. However Hacker and Bennett argue against this view by noting mental imagery does not meet the criterion for being depictational.

They note that when something is depictational it has a depictational and non-depictational elements. Thus a picture which is used to depict a dog has some non-depictational elements such as the paper used, the paint used etc. As well as depictational elements such the spatial relations of the part of the picture and the color of the painting etc. The same is true of piece of writing, so the ink and paper or…

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1 thought on “Hacker and Bennett on Mental Imagery

  1. Jim

    Hi David,
    Let me know if this isn’t the best place is to conduct this discussion of mental imagery. Don’t feel like you have to respond immediately. I prefer to go slowly with this kind of thing anyway – it gives me time to let things sink in.

    I’ll try to sketch my theoretical commitments as a way to help to ground any claims I am likely to make and to shed some light on my motivations and assumptions.

    I take mental imagery to be a consequence of our capacities to represent the world to others, i.e. to communicate both verbally – in the human case – and nonverbally. A short passage from Norman Malcolm’s 1977 essay “Thinking” gives a very good indication of my thoughts in this regard:

    “A child who had never manifested in words, gestures, or play the working out of simple problems could not be said to work them out ‘in his mind’, any more than he could be said to know ‘in his mind’ the names of colours, if he was unable to say their names, or to point or to fetch the right colours when their names were called out. Thinking in ones mind (silent thinking, pausing to think) is not the most fundamental form of thinking, but instead presupposes thinking in play, work, or words.”

    The point here, as far as I see it, is that actually doing things intelligently is this most fundamental form of thinking (both LW and Ryle subscribed to similar views). This is the form of thinking upon which everything else supervenes. But it is NOT a contemplative “in the mind” sort of thinking. Such intelligent action is thinking IN the act of doing. Of course thinking is still going on “in the mind” but it is simply not extricable from the doing.
    I argue that the only reason you and I are contemplative creatures capable of conducting thoughts “in our minds” in the absence of active doing, is because we are adept communicators. We have learnt to “internalise” our communicative skills. Children first learn to speak out loud before they can conduct an inner monologue. Likewise, they learn to read before becoming capable of reading silently. Culture constantly encourages children to become contemplators, envisagers, anticipators, visualisers. Divorced from infancy from all cultural influence an individual wouldn’t need to think in this passive private way, indeed I argue that they wouldn’t be capable of doing so. All their thinking would be exhibited purely in their intelligent action. In order to plan “in your mind” you first need to be capable of making publically perceptible plans of one kind or another. As Vygotsky and Piaget noted, children go through predictable phases of representationally mediated action beginning with imitation and then “abbreviated demonstration,” “speech-punctuated gesturing,” “solitary speech” and finally “internalised speech.”

    I take all communication to involve perceivers. I take all perception to be sensorily mediated and I take the senses to be extensions of the brain, which means that I reject the idea that the world is only indirectly accessible. The world is not delivered to us. We are embedded embodied embrained creatures as Hutto and Myin (2013) have put it.


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