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Workshop des Instituts für Philosophie "Can you imagine?" - The role of imagination in understanding others


26.09.2023 10:00 bis 27.09.2023 18:00 (Europe/Berlin / UTC200)


Senckenbergstr. 3, R. 3, 35390 Gießen

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Workshop "Can you imagine?!" The Role of Imagination in Understanding Others

26th and 27th of September 2023 

“I understand what you're going through”, “Do you feel misunderstood?”, “She gets me”—we are constantly entangled in attempts of understanding others and of making ourselves understood. But what does it mean, exactly, to understand another person? There are roughly two influential ways to answer this question: one refers to mental state recognition, and the second pertains to a folk psychological understanding of other people, particularly their linguistic and non-linguistic actions. In these contexts, one very often finds two core ideas: First, “understanding” is often conceived as explanatory understanding. For instance, theories of action, especially those within the Davidsonian tradition, provide answers to the question of how we understand other people’s action or behaviour by citing reasons for actions (typically a belief-desire pair). Second, “understanding” typically refers to propositional knowledge of another person’s mental state. Thus, to understand another person could mean to know her mental states and the inferential relations between these states. Both, propositional knowledge of another person’s mental states and explanatory understanding of her actions, are certainly important when it comes to understanding other persons. But is interpersonal understanding exhaustively explained by these two aspects?  

Two hypotheses are at the centre stage of the workshop: the first one posits that there is a form of understanding that goes beyond mental state recognition and rationalisation by citing Humean reasons for actions. The second hypothesis is that, at least in some cases, imagination plays a decisive role in this understanding. In particular, the capacity to imaginatively take on another person’s perspective, including its phenomenal aspects, and to reenact her experiences may be crucial for the explanation of interpersonal understanding as well as its failure. But how can this manner of understanding be spelled out in a helpful way? 

The workshop’s aim is to explore the role of imagination in interpersonal understanding, beyond the limits of rationalisation and mere social cognition


  • Julia Langkau (University of Geneva, Switzerland): Imaginative Resistance in Empathy 
  • Lilian O'Brien (University of Helsinki, Finland): Imaginative Acceptance and Understanding Action
  • Shannon Spaulding (Oklahoma State University, USA): Imagining Other
  • Uku Tooming (University of Tartu, Estonia): How to Imagine Better Together
  • Christiana Werner (JLU Giessen/ University Duisburg-Essen): Simulating and Understanding. On Being an Understanding Person
  • Nick Wiltsher (Uppsala University, Sweden): Is Phenomenal Imagination the Means or the End of Understanding?
  • Serena Gregorio (JLU Giessen): Keeping it Together. Why Imagination Matters for Self-Constitution

The workshop, organised as part of the DFG-funded project “Geist und Imagination”, will take place (exclusively in presence) on the 26th and 27th of September 2023 at the Justus Liebig Universität in Giessen, Germany (Senckenbergstraße 3, 35390 Giessen; Room 3; start: 10am s.t.; end: 6pm). 

Interested participants are invited to register by sending an email to by September 15th.