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Imagination

Ancient Greece

In the ancient Greek tradition, too, the idea of imagination is closely bound up with divine power and prerogatives. In the pre-philosophical era it is most dramatically expressed in the myth of Prometheus, whose theft of fire from heaven brought the creative energy of the gods to humankind. It is only in the work of Plato and Aristotle, however, that the idea is brought to some level of conceptual clarity. Although Plato's earliest dialogues espouse a firm idealism inherited from Parmenides, by the time of the Republic he has begun to see the need to bring together the material, phenomenal world and the world of ideas. The imagination (phantasia or eikasia), if used in aid of reason can attain to, and even express, universal ideas. By the time of the Phaedrus and the Timaeus, Plato sees that imaginative representation "recalls to mind those eternal forms of Beauty which are the innate possessions of the soul and the objects of its contemplation" (Bundy, p. 58). Aristotle's more pragmatic approach shifts the focus from metaphysical foundations to form and function, from objective to subjective. Thus imitation (mimesis) is for him an inductive and psychological process rather than a divinely inspired intuition. It was his emphasis rather than Plato's that was to predominate in the Western tradition until the eighteenth century.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to IncompatibilityImagination - Biblical Beginnings, Non-western Traditions, Ancient Greece, Medieval And Renaissance Views, The Enlightenment