Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Empathy and imaginative resistance

People who do aesthetics are often familiar with what's called "imaginative resistance" -- the fact that it's hard to imagine counterfactual states of affairs where acts immoral in our world are moral, simply because different moral rules hold there. Yesterday Justin and I were discussing counterpossible states of affairs where the epistemic norms were different -- in particular, where falling prey to the Monte Carlo fallacy or engaging in wishful thinking were the ways to form justified beliefs.

I've found that the best way to overcome imaginative resistance and get into these examples was to imagine people who would come to hold bizarre views of norms, and try to enter their state of mind in a sort of empathic way. For the wishful thinking case, I'd imagine a sort of crackpot Romantic from the 1800s who was against rationality and thought that the best part of human beings was in their emotions and desires. I can see this guy accepting a view of epistemic norms where wishful thinking was the right way to believe, and sort of get into his perspective through some kind of act of empathy.


Jonathan said...

I think this is just right, Neil, but most people don't. They'll say something like: "you're not imagining that that's knowledge, you're just imagining that you believe it's knowledge."

I think that this is a confusion about the way imagination works, but I'm finding myself pretty unpopular in that view.

Anonymous said...


This is a bit unrelated, but I'm curious as to your thoughts on the use of intuitions in metaphysics and why they count as sources of justification.

We should also catch up sometime -- I don't have your contact info. Send me an email or something, edjoesu@gmail.com