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Roles Played By Reason And Imagination In Knowledge Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2063 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The role played by imagination was insignificant in the achievement of knowledge due to its confusing and tentative nature and that rational thought was the sources of much knowledge believed Sir Francis Bacon, a deterministic, Renaissance rationalist. [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] The Critique of Pure Reason contrasts this view, stating that both reason and imagination are necessary for acquiring knowledge. [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] However, to what extent can Bacon’s views on reason and imagination be justified? This essay will examine such a concept through the exploration of the four ways of knowing (perception, language, emotion and reason) as well as two areas of knowledge, which will be history and the natural sciences.

The Critique of Pure Reason is written by Immanuel Kant, a theorist. He mostly concerned himself with the metaphysical world, a reality based on abstract and empirical concepts. The proposition of this idea is bizarre coming from a man who lived in the ‘Age of Reason’ when being rational was considered the ultimate and most accurate way of knowing.

Reason is defined as the process of thinking and gaining knowledge through manipulation, integration and evaluation of facts and ideas, it can be either deductive reasoning (from the general to the particular) or inductive reasoning (from the particular to general principles) [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] . Whereas imagination is defined as ‘the power of reproducing images stored in the memory under the suggestion of associated images or of recombining former experiences to create new images’ [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] Using the above definitions, incorporating the four ways of knowing and the two areas of knowledge to address the knowledge issue: ‘are the roles of reason and imagination necessary to gain adequate knowledge in the areas of the natural sciences and history?’

Firstly, the definition of ‘adequate’ is to be provided. According to the Encarta English Dictionary, adequate is defined as ‘sufficient in quality or quantity to meet a need or qualify for something’. It has been accepted that achieving absolute truth is virtually impossible, thus the knowledge issue is worded in a manner to account for this.

History is defined as ‘the study of the past’ [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] by Richard van de Lagemaat and by Britannica Encyclopedia as ‘the discipline that studies the chronological record of events (as affecting a nation or people), based on a critical examination of source materials and usually presenting an explanation of their causes’ [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] ; it is essentially a study of human behavior. In schools, history falls under the humanities subject department or in the literary arts, yet, there are some who contest this idea and believe it should be considered more a natural science than a literary art or humanities subject. The writing language of written history incorporates an emotional aspect. This can be justified by the means of identifying the roles of reason and imagination in history. Due to its definition supplied by Britannica, history requires reason, and because the language used to define the subject, history is made to seem as though it is mimicking a scientific doctrine. A scientific doctrine is defined as ‘the results of an experiment must be both independently verifiable and independently reproducible.’ [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] From this definition, however, it presents a counter argument. It suggest that history cannot be a considered a natural science due to its non-experimental nature; one cannot reproduce or change the past, only analyze and learn from it. It is subjective and owns a subcategory of historiography which is the critical response to an in-depth analysis of sources, transforming them into narratives to justify events, why they happened the way they did and explaining the psyche behind the decisions made. [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] Scientists argue that the perspective of a historian is adjusted, predetermined before he starts his work as he will only look for sources and information to prove his hypothesis. [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] Nonetheless, with only reason, history would remain incomplete. Elements of historiography are more imaginative than historians prefer to let on; there are gaps in the information. There is no possibility that ever single second of history will ever be recorded, and only as of recent, we have managed to become very close to this aspiration with the invention of things such as the internet and world news as it happens, making the recording of history easier but much more open to interpretation. This involves imagination, rather than reason. Reason does not allow for ‘outside-of-the-box’ thought patterns, traditionally; and imagination is required to piece together the delicate puzzle in a poetic and sensible way. History is also plagued with the idea of hindsight bias. These are tendencies to believe, after learning of an outcome, that one could have foreseen it. [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] Hindsight bias can be considered to have rational elements, but also consists of fallacies like cognitive bias. This, according to Wikipedia, is a ‘pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations.’ [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] History, or at least accurate history, is not produced by mere imagination, devotions and poetic utterances, if it were just art; a writer could compose a whole new reality than what really happened outside his own imagination. Historians have archaeology to draw from. They have primary documents that tell them what people were declaring. They cannot verify the way scientists can, but they can be empirical. It can be deduced that history is a science. There may indeed be scientific elements in judging a military situation [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] ; nevertheless, there are an equal number of factors that simply cannot be scientifically quantified. In order for history to be as actuate as possible, both imagination and reason play key roles in acquiring knowledge. The role of imagination in history is that with which one can understand the events that transpire around a particular situation. Reason plays a role in establishing what the event is. Without the imagination, reason is only a few written words; with the imagination, reason becomes more powerful and substantiating.

Natural sciences are recognized as ‘a model for knowledge owing to many factors, prime among which is their capacity to explain and make precise predictions.’ [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] Natural sciences are often known as ‘hard sciences,’ consisting of biology, chemistry and physics. They are often considered to be solely rational subjects that defy religion and question the world we live in, believed to give automatic proof of intellectual superiority because of its empirical data and facts and use of rational thinking, devoid of emotion and laden with precise and concise language. The idea of natural sciences as a literary art is nearly unheard of. This idea follows Bacon’s school of thought. Alternatively, in the spirit of Kant’s school of thought, it can also be considered a capacity for imaginative thinking. Most scientific laws and theories known today can be considered to have started with a creative endeavor, beginning with thought and imagination even though it is scientifically based. [CITATION TIM62 l 1033] The thought that reason is the purest and truest way of attaining knowledge, an idea from the 17th century Renaissance, known as the ‘Age of Reason’, is slowly becoming contradicted. For example, the now respected idea that a high IQ is not a reliable sign of ‘giftedness’ may simply indicate ‘convergent’ thinking. Truly creative children are said to have ‘divergent’ thinking that tend to find IQ tests boring and do not readily accept the ‘right’ answer as the right one. A Chicago team devised various tests to spot divergent thinkers, testing 95 school boys. The test asked students to make up alternate endings for fables, instead of simply picking the ‘right’ answers, and to write stories suggested by ‘stimuli’ such as pictures which supply ‘many different uses’ for everyday objects. Surprisingly, the top scores came from those specializing in history and English literature. The least creative, according to Hudson’s findings, were the natural science students. Young scientists, says Hudson, ‘tend to be less intellectually flexible than young arts specialists and more restricted emotionally.’ [CITATION The08 l 1033] In natural science, imagination is needed in order to correctly interpret data and create further possibilities for experimentation, although reason is used to ascertain whether or not one’s findings and one’s methods are realistic. There is little to suggest that the artist’s view point of science is more than just a thought or crazy theory, but it is evidently important for the scientist to view the world from an imaginative perpective. The idea of natural science as an art has only been seen in science fiction literatures, however, the language used in these works are generally emotionally laden even though they give the perception of being scientifically concise. Even though it has the word ‘science’ in it, and presents logically plausible notions (in some cases), science fiction is often associated with imagination and fantasy rather than reason and logic.

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Overall, it can be concluded that neither imagination nor reason are ruling aspects of history or natural science, but are necessary together in creating tangibility and some degree of certainty in attaining knowledge. Both of them create counterparts for each other making them unable to logically exist alone. It can be argued that Bacon’s views on reason and imagination are fairly unjustified as the roles of both are necessary to gain adequate knowledge and understanding in the natural sciences and history, as without one, the other becomes nearly useless; it supports Kant’s thesis, The Critique of Pure Reason. It is clear that Bacon failed to see the necessity of corresponding thoughts to create an ideological notion, integrating both aspects of acquiring knowledge for reason and imagination are highly dependent on each other for support.

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