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Philosophical Research

Research Interests

I am interested in the relation between meaning and imagination. In particular, I am researching the role the imagination plays in our practical experience and knowledge of, and our talk about, the world.

I argue for a position that owes, broadly speaking, to two major philosophical influences: the eighteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant; and the twentieth century Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

On this view, our experience of the world, and the knowledge that is derived from it, is synthesised from sensation and objective concepts. Imagination is critical for the correct application of objective concepts to the stream of sensation. I extend and refine these claims to argue that the imagination confers meaning on our perceptions and actions, and therefore on our practical experience of the world. In a nutshell, imagination permeates our experience of the world rendering it meaningful, and colours our knowledge of it.

In particular, meaningful experience requires two complementary imaginative capacities. Suppositional imagination is essentially symbolic in nature, and provides form or structure to our thought, by underwriting our possession of objective concepts. Sensuous imagination re-creates sensory experiences, is derived from our conscious experience of the world, and enables us to imagine what certain experiences are like. The Kantian point is that meaningful experience requires the capacity to imagine correctly, and this requires the complementary interplay of both suppositional and sensuous imagination.


Publications RSS feed to Phil Joyce's publications

2005, Review of Colin McGinn's 'Mindsight', Science, 308, (116)
The review attempts to bring out a distinctive feature of McGinn's philosophical treatment of the imagination: its combination of conceptual analysis and phenomenology.
2003, 'Imagining Experiences Correctly', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 103, (325-53)
Argues for the Kantian position that to imagine experiences correctly requires possession of a concept of the experience. This counts against the so-called 'ability theory' which claims that knowledge of experience is non-conceptual, and requires only basic abilities such as imagination and recognition.

Doctoral Thesis

University Oxford
Dates Submitted April 2007, Examined February 2008
Subject Philosophy of Mind, Language and Knowledge
Title Meaning and Imagination

The thesis plots the conceptual connections between three important topics in contemporary philosophy of learning: Jackson's knowledge argument, Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations and Ryle's alleged distinction between knowing how and knowing that.

I argue that all three trade on a distinction between between practical and theoretical knowledge. These two forms of knowledge are to be understood in terms of two complementary imaginative capacities. Theoretical knowledge is explicated in terms of suppositional imagination. Practical knowlege is explicated in terms of sensuous, imaginative capacities acquired in practical experience. Together, these two imaginative capacities confer meaning on our thought, talk and action; and as such ground our knowledge of the world.

I conclude that a unifying framework in theoretical philosophy, which addresses all three topics, can be built from the concept of imagining experiences correctly.
Main Supervisors Professor Bill Child and Professor Susan Hurley

Examiners Professor Simon Blackburn and Professor Martin Davies
Examiners' Statement "Phillip Joyce has submitted a dissertation of a high international standard. It is far-ranging, lucid, intelligent, and displays considerable judgement."