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Ricoeur's Philosophy of Imagination

George H. Taylor

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

March 3, 2009

Journal of French Philosophy, Vol. 16, p. 93, 2006
U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research

Scholars on the work of Paul Ricoeur contend that if there is one philosophical problem that pervades a number of Ricoeur's inquiries, it is that of imagination. I agree. Yet in Ricoeur's published work we find only scattered references to this topic and no comprehensive development on this subject so apparently central to his thinking. My claim is that scholarly attention to Ricoeur's unpublished "Lectures on Imagination" may redress this lacuna in his work. These Lectures provide the only place where we find a more complete systematic presentation of Ricoeur's argument as it moves from an analysis of reproductive to productive imagination.

In the Lectures, Ricoeur argues that classical and contemporary accounts of imagination in Western thought prototypically emphasize reproductive imagination. These accounts distinguish between an original - reality - and a copy - the image or the imagination - and the copy is always less than the original, because it is a replica of a preexisting outer reality. By contrast and building in part on Kant, Ricoeur argues for a space for productive imagination, a "nowhere" not bound by an original that may produce a new reality. The domains of productive imagination articulated in the Lectures include social and cultural imagination (the utopia), epistemological imagination, and poetic imagination.

These Lectures came at a critical cusp in Ricoeur's career. During this period Ricoeur also presented a set of lectures on ideology and utopia that I later edited for publication. Ricoeur's book on metaphor, La metaphore vive, had just been published, and elements of that work are revived in the Lectures. Late in the Lectures his subsequent work on narrative is also foreshadowed. At this central juncture, Ricoeur is crystallizing his thoughts on poetics. Imagination lies at the heart of his thinking at this time.

Ricoeur's work on imagination informs my evaluation elsewhere of the role played by imagination and creativity in law.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 12

Keywords: philosophy of imagination, Paul Ricoeur, imagination, reproductive imagination, productive imagination, poetics, creativity

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Date posted: March 10, 2009  

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Taylor, George H., Ricoeur's Philosophy of Imagination (March 3, 2009). Journal of French Philosophy, Vol. 16, p. 93, 2006; U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1352664

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George H. Taylor (Contact Author)
University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )
3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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