Desire-like imagination, or I-Desire, is said to be analogous to desire in the same way that belief-like imagination, or imagination, is analogous to belief. There are a few different arguments for positing desire-like imagination in print. Greg Currie has given a few on the grounds of inference to the best explanation: he argues that desire-like imagination can best help us explain phenomena including affective response toward fiction and seemingly conflicting desires toward fiction (Currie and Ravenscroft 2002), and imaginative resistance (Currie 2002, in Gendler & Hawthorne). Tyler Doggett and Andy Egan similarly argue that desire-like imagination can best help us explain behaviors of pretenders who are immersed in the fiction of the pretense (Doggett and Egan 2007). I am unconvinced by these arguments and remain skeptical of desire-like imagination. But in a reading group today, I tried to provide a new motivation for positing desire-like imagination.
Take as the starting point the analogy at the beginning of this post: desire-like imagination is to desire as (belief-like) imagination is to belief. There is a tradition of differentiating belief and desire by their “directions of fit”. Belief is said to have a mind-to-world fit: the aim of belief is to represent a fact about the actual world. Desire is said to have a world-to-mind fit: the aim of desire is to make the world as the non-actual state of affairs represented. Arguably, we can also say that imagination has a direction of fit, at least when we are exercising the faculty in pretense or engagement with fiction. Imagination, I want to claim, has a mind-to-fictionality fit: the aim of imagination is to represent a fact about the (relevant) fictional world. The relationships between belief, desire, and imagination are summarized by the following table:
|belief-like mental states||desire-like mental states|
|real world||belief (mind to world)||desire (world to mind)|
|fictional world||imagination (mind to fictionality)||???|
Now it seems natural to fill out ??? with a mental state that is both desire-like and about the fictional world. Desire-like imagination fits. Following through with the analogies, desire-like imagination has a fictionality-to-mind direction of fit: the aim of desire-like imagination is to make the fictional world as the non-fictional state of affairs represented.
Whether the picture presented constitutes a positive argument for positing desire-like imagination depends on the strengths of the analogies. It seems to me that it at least offers some potential for such an argument. However, my goal for presenting this, what I think is a quite natural, picture is to use it as a pre-emptive strike against some common objections against positing desire-like imagination.
Challengers to desire-like imagination often say that (1) the nature of desire-like imagination is mysterious, and consequently, (2) it seems that we can reduce desire-like imagination to the better-understood mental state of desires: desire-like imagination is just desire about the relevant fiction. The arguments presented by Currie and Doggett and Egan somewhat address (2) but they do not appear to address (1). I think the picture I have presented can address both.
In response to (1): if the analogies about directions of fit is right, then we can in fact say something about what constitutes desire-like imagination: its direction of fit. Granted, more needs to be said, but it is at least a positive step forward.
In response to (2): we now have pretty good reasons to say that desire-like imagination is not just desire about the relevant fiction. The proponent of desire-like imagination can respond thus, “There is a difference between belief’s direction of fit and imagination’s direction of fit. Directions of fit are quite metaphorical, I admit. Given that you must think that there is a difference between imagining p and believing that p is true in the fiction, you must have some way of spelling out that difference. However you spell that out, I will borrow it to spell out the difference between desire’s direction of fit and desire-like imagination’s direction of fit. As such, desire-like imagining p and desiring p is true in the fiction have different directions of fit, so the former cannot be reduced to the latter.”
How does that sound?
revisions July 3, 2008.