Towards a dual process epistemology of imagination

Michael T. Stuart*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Sometimes we learn through the use of imagination. The epistemology of imagination asks how this is possible. One barrier to progress on this question has been a lack of agreement on how to characterize imagination; for example, is imagination a mental state, ability, character trait, or cognitive process? This paper argues that we should characterize imagination as a cognitive ability, exercises of which are cognitive processes. Following dual process theories of cognition developed in cognitive science, the set of imaginative processes is then divided into two kinds: one that is unconscious, uncontrolled, and effortless, and another that is conscious, controlled, and effortful. This paper outlines the different epistemological strengths and weaknesses of the two kinds of imaginative process, and argues that a dual process model of imagination helpfully resolves or clarifies issues in the epistemology of imagination and the closely related epistemology of thought experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1329-1350
Number of pages22
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Dual process model of cognition
  • Epistemology of imagination
  • Scientific imagination
  • Thought experiments


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