Social Imaginaries

Volume 1, Issue 2, Autumn 2015

George H. Taylor
Pages 13-31

The Phenomenological Contributions of Ricoeur’s Philosophy of Imagination

In his work on productive imagination, Paul Ricoeur reorients the imagination away from its reproductive side – as copy of an image, a copy of an existing reality – to its productive potential that can break through not only the prison house of language but the prison house of existing social and political structures. Using the lens of phenomenology, this article analyses the two deepest insights of Ricoeur’s theory of productive imagination. First, Ricoeur elevates application of the phenomenological theory of intentionality to decipher how it may create a space for productive imagination. The theory of intentionality requires consideration of consciousness as the consciousness of something where the ‘something’ is no longer real but the ‘absolutely nowhere.’ Ricoeur undertakes consideration of what this consciousness of may entail in his theory of fiction. He poses whether a theory of fiction can connect the unreal with the real by reshaping it intentionally. When the image has no original referent, then fictions may provide an original of their own. Second, Ricoeur shows us through his theory of iconic augmentation how the fiction can accomplish this remaking of our world. Here Ricoeur shows how phenomenology can engage in analysis of language as a form of productive imagination. The verbal icon as a productive image is the creation of a language that displays and so presents both a visual and a linguistic role. The icon augments in the sense that it is creative and increases reality. Fictions – including social-political utopias – may produce and display their own world, which may in turn enlarge our world.