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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Imagination

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(Lat. imaginatio). "The meaning of this word enters into many relationships, and is thereby rendered difficult to define. The principal meaning is doubtless what connects it with poetry and fine art, from which the other significations branch off. The simplest mode of explaining this complicated relationship will be to state in separation-the different constituents of the power in question. We shall then see why and where it touches upon other faculties, which still require to be distinguished from it.

"1. Imagination has for its objects the concrete, the real, or the individual, as opposed to abstractions and generalities, which are the matter of science. The full coloring of reality is implied in our imagination of any scene of nature. In this respect, there is something common to imagination and memory. If we endeavor to imagine a volcano, according as we succeed, we have before the mind everything that a spectator would observe on the spot. Thus, sensation, memory, and imagination alike deal with the fullness of the actual world, as opposed to the abstractions of science and the reasoning faculties.

"The faculty called conception, in one of its meanings, has also to do with this concrete fullness, although, in what Sir William Hamilton deems the original and proper meaning of that word, this power is excluded. In popular language, and in the philosophy of Dugald, Stewart, conception is applied to the case of our realizing any description of actual life, as given in history or in poetry. When we completely enter into a scene portrayed by a writer or speaker, and approach the situation of the actual observer, we are often said to conceive what is meant, and also to imagine it; the best word for this signification probably is realize.'

"2. It is further essential to imagination in its strictest sense that there should be some original construction, or that what is imagined should not be a mere picture of what we have seen. Creativeness, origination, invention, are names also designating the same power, and excluding mere memory, or the literal reproduction of past experience. Every artist is said to have imagination according as he can rise to new combinations or effects different from what he has found in his actual observation of nature. A literal, matter-of-fact historian would be said to be wanting in the faculty. The exact copying of nature may be very meritorious in an artist, and very agreeable as an effect, but we should not designate it by the term imagination. There are, however, in the sciences, and in all the common arts, strokes of invention and new constructions, to which it might seem at first sight unfair to refuse the term in question, if originality be a leading feature in its definition. But still we do not usually apply the term imagination to this case, and for a reason that will appear when we mention the next peculiarity attaching to the faculty.

"3. Imagination has for its ruling element some emotion of the mind, to gratify which all its constructions are guided. Here lies the great contrast between it and the creativeness of science and mechanical invention. These last are instrumental to remote objects of convenience or pleasure. A creation of the imagination comes home at once to the mind, and has no ulterior view.

"Whenever we are under the mastery of some strong emotion, the current of our thoughts is affected and colored by that emotion; what chimes in with it is retained, and other things kept out of sight. We also form new constructions that suit the state of the moment. Thus, in fear, we are overwhelmed by objects of alarm, and even conjure up, specters that have no existence. But the highest example of all is presented to us by the constructions of fine art, which are determined by those emotions called aesthetic, the sense of beauty, the pleasures of taste; they are sometimes expressly styled pleasures of the imagination.' The artist has in himself those various sensibilities to an unusual degree, and he carver and shapes his creations with a view to gratifying them to the utmost. Thus it happens that fine art and imagination are related together, while science and useful art are connected with our reasoning faculties, which may also be faculties of invention. It is a deviation from the correct use of language, and a confounding of things essentially distinct, to say that a man of science stands in need of imagination as well as powers of reason; he needs the power of original construction, but his inventions are not framed to satisfy present emotions, but to be instrumental in remote ends, which in their remoteness may excite nothing that is usually understood as emotion. Every artist exercises the faculty in question if he produces anything original in his art.

The name Fancy' has substantially the meanings now described, and was originally identical with imagination. It is a corruption of fantasy, from the Greek φαντασία . It has now a shade of meaning somewhat different, being applied to those creations that are most widely removed from the world of reality. In the exercise of our imagination we may keep close to nature, and only indulge the liberty of recombining what we find, so as to surpass the original in some points, without forcing together what could not co-exist in reality. This is the sober style of art. But when, in order to gratify the unbounded longings of the mind, we construct a fairyland with characteristics altogether beyond what human life can furnish, we are said to enter the regions of fancy and the fantastical.

"The ideal' and ideality' are also among the synonyms of imagination, and their usual acceptation illustrates still further the property now discussed. The ideal' is something that fascinates the mind, or gratifies some of our strong emotions and cravings, when reality is insufficient for that end. Desiring something to admire and love beyond what the world can supply, we strike out a combination free from the defects of common humanity, and adorned with more than excellence. This is our ideal,' what satisfies our emotions, and the fact of its so doing is the determining influence in the construction of it" (See IDEALISM).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Imagination'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/i/imagination.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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