Husserl’s struggle with mental images: imaging and imagining reconsidered

Continental Philosophy Review 46 (3):371-394 (2013)
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Husserl’s extensive analyses of image consciousness (Bildbewusstsein) and of the imagination (Phantasie) offer insightful and detailed structural explications. However, despite this careful work, Husserl’s discussions fail to overcome the need to rely on a most problematic concept: mental images. The epistemological conundrums triggered by the conceptual framework of mental images are well known—we have only to remember the questions regarding knowledge acquisition that plagued British empiricism. Beyond these problems, however, a plethora of important questions arise from claiming that mental images are structural moments of imaging and imagining. Any attempt to clarify the structure and conditions for the possibility of aesthetic experience must first provide an unambiguous account of pictorial depiction—a task unattainable through the mental images discourse. Similarly, exposing the import of the imagination for theoretical scientific inquiries (be they positive or eidetic) requires an initial explication of the structure of this consciousness; this explication, however, must address our ability to imagine non-spatially determined objects—something the conceptual framework of mental images utterly fails to accomplish. In this paper I argue against Husserl’s reliance on mental images in his phenomenological analyses of imaging and imagining and propose an alternative structural account for both. This account is free of this reliance and able to steer clear of its insidious implications for epistemology, aesthetics, and methodological reflections. By closely following the development of Husserl’s account I suggest alternative descriptions while building on Husserl’s important work

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Andreea Smaranda Aldea
DePaul University


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