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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Imagination

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In general, the power or process of producing mental pictures or ideas. The term is technically used in psychology for the process of reviving in the mind percepts of objects formerly given in sense perception. Since this use of the term conflicts with that of ordinary language, some psychologists have preferred to describe this process as "imaging" or "imagery" or to speak of it as "reproductive" as opposed to "productive" or "constructive" imagination (see Image and Psychology). The common use of the term is for the process of forming in the mind new images which have not been previously experienced, or at least only partially or in different combinations. Thus the image of a centaur is the result of combining the common percepts of man and horse: fairy tales and fiction generally are the result of this process of combination. Imagination in this sense, not being limited to the acquisition of exact knowledge by the requirements of practical necessity, is up to a certain point free from objective restraints. In various spheres, however, even imagination is in practice limited: thus a man whose imaginations do violence to the elementary laws of thought, or to the necessary principles of practical possibility, or to the reasonable probabilities of a given case is regarded as insane. The same limitations beset imagination in the field of scientific hypothesis.

1 Tylor, Prim. Culture, ii. 178.

Progress in scientific research is due largely to provisional explanations which are constructed by imagination, but such hypotheses must be framed in relation to previously ascertained facts and in accordance with the principles of the particular science. In spite, however, of these broad practical considerations, imagination differs fundamentally from belief in that the latter involves "objective control of subjective activity" (Stout). The play of imagination, apart from the obvious limitations (e.g. of avoiding explicit self-contradiction), is conditioned only by the general trend of the mind at a given moment. Belief, on the other hand, is immediately related to practical activity: it is perfectly possible to imagine myself a millionaire, but unless I believe it I do not, therefore, act as such. Belief always endeavours to conform to objective conditions; though it is from one point of view subjective it is also objectively conditioned, whereas imagination as such is specifically free. The dividing line between imagination and belief varies widely in different stages of mental development. Thus a savage who is ill frames an ideal reconstruction of the causes of his illness, and attributes it to the hostile magic of an enemy. In ignorance of pathology he is satisfied with this explanation, and actually believes in it, whereas such a hypothesis in the mind of civilized man would be treated as a pure effort of imagination, or even as a hallucination. It follows that the distinction between imagination and belief depends in practice on knowledge, social environment, training and the like.

Although, however, the absence of objective restraint, i.e. a certain unreality, is characteristic of imagination, none the less it has great practical importance as a purely ideational activity. Its very freedom from objective limitation makes it a source of pleasure and pain. A person of vivid imagination suffers acutely from the imagination of perils besetting a friend. In fact in some cases the ideal construction is so "real" that specific physical manifestations occur, as though imagination had passed into belief or the events imagined were actually in progress.

An Arabic word, meaning "leader" or "guide" in the sense of a "pattern whose example is followed, whether for good or bad." Thus it is applied to the Koran, to a builder's level and plumb-line, to a road, to a school-boy's daily task, to a written record. It is used in several of these senses in the Koran, but specifically several times of leaders and (ii. 118) of Abraham, "Lo, I make thee a pattern for mankind." Imam thus became the name of the head of the Moslem community, whose leadership and patternhood, as in the case of Mahomet himself, is to be regarded as of the widest description. His duty is to be the lieutenant, the Caliph of the Prophet, to guard the faith and maintain the government of the state. Round the origin and basis of his office all controversies as to the Moslem state centre. The Sunnites hold that it is for men to appoint and that the basis is obedience to the general usage of the Moslem peoples from the earliest times. The necessity for leaders has always been recognized, and a leader has always been appointed. The basis is thus agreement in the technical sense (see Mahommedan Law), not Koran nor tradition from Mahomet nor analogy. The Shi`ites in general hold that the appointment lies with God, through the Prophet or otherwise, and that He always has appointed. The Kharijites theoretically recognize no absolute need of an Imam; he is convenient and allowable. The Motazilites held that reason, not agreement, dictated the appointment. Another distinction between the Sunnites and the Shi`ites is that the Sunnites regard the Imam as liable to err, and to be obeyed even though he personally sins, provided he maintains the ordinances of Islam. Effective leadership is the essential point. But the Shi`ites believe that the divinely appointed Imam is also divinely illumined and preserved ( ma`sum ) from sin. The above is called the greater Imamate. The lesser Imamate is the leadership in the Friday prayers. This was originally performed by the Imam in the first sense, who not only led in prayers but delivered a sermon (khutba); but with the growth of the Moslem empire and the retirement of the caliph from public life, it was necessarily given over to a deputy - part of a gradual process of putting the Imamate or caliphate into commission. These deputy Imams are, in Turkey, ministers of the state, each in charge of his own parish; they issue passports, &c., and perform the rites of circumcision, marriage and burial. In Persia among Shi`ites their position is more purely spiritual, and they are independent of the state. A few of their leaders are called Mujtahids, i.e. capable of giving an independent opinion on questions of religion and canon law. A third use of the term Imam is as an honorary title. It is thus applied to leading theologians, e.g. to Abu Ilanifa, ash-Shafi`i, Malik ibn Anas, Ahmad ibn IIanbal (these are called "the four Imams"), Ghazali.

See McG. de Slane's transl. of Ibn Khaldun's Prolegomenes, i. 384 seq., 402 seq., 426 seq., 445; iii. 35, 58 seq.; Ostrorog's transl. of Mawardi's Ahkam i. 89 seq.; Haarbriicker's transl. of Shahrastani by index; Juynboll's De Mohammedaanische Wet, 316 seq.; Sell's Faith of Islam, 95 seq.; Macdonald's Development of Muslim Theology, 56 seq. (D. B. MA.)


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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Imagination'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/i/imagination.html. 1910.

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