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Imagination

Medieval And Renaissance Views

There are wide divergences in medieval views of imagination. Although one finds in such synthetic thinkers as St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) (and later in the poetry of Dante [1265–1321]) attempts to reconcile the idealism of Plato and the Neoplatonists with the more psychological approach of Aristotle, it is the latter that generally finds favor among faculty-oriented Scholastic philosophers. For all this, though, a Platonic undercurrent often remains—as in Aquinas and in the Jewish philosopher Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides; 1135–1204)—to explain the intrinsic relationship between the material world and the transcendent, the human and the divine. Arab philosophers of the period, notably Avicenna (Ibn Sina; 980–1037), tend to give priority to imagination over intellect in achieving true knowledge, while the Western tradition invariably insists that imagination must remain under the control of intellect. However, imagination (imaginatio and phantasia are used synonymously in Aquinas) is crucial for most of the medieval Scholastics as a means of expressing the analogical relationship between the sensible world and transcendent reality.

In the Renaissance, the Vita nuova and Divina commedia of Dante and De imaginatione sive phantasia of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) may fairly be taken as representative. All three draw heavily from Scholastic philosophy, and although Dante is, like his master Aquinas, an Aristotelian, both are more deeply interested in the possibilities of vision than in the epistemological process itself. Thus, in part through them, the Platonic tradition continues into succeeding generations, with such theorists as Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) in his Apology for Poetry. Even as he strongly emphasizes the teaching role of poetry in achieving "virtuous action," using Plato's ideas for a moral purpose, Sidney keeps alive the Platonic emphasis on imaginative vision.

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