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Experience and Theory as Determinants of Attitudes toward Mental Representation: The Case of Knight Dunlap and the Vanishing Images of J.B. Watson

University of Illinois
Publication Date
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Philosophy Of Mind
  • Philosophy Of Science
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology


Galton and subsequent investigators find wide divergences in people's subjective reports of mental imagery. Such individual differences might be taken to explain the peculiarly irreconcilable disputes over the nature and cognitive significance of imagery which have periodically broken out among psychologists and philosophers. However, to so explain these disputes is itself to take a substantive and questionable position on the cognitive role of imagery. This article distinguishes three separable issues over which people can be "for" or "against" mental images. Conflation of these issues can lead to theoretical differences being mistaken for experiential differences, even by theorists themselves. This is applied to the case of John B. Watson, who inaugurated a half-century of neglect of image psychology. Watson originally claimed to have vivid imagery; by 1913 he was denying the existence of images. This strange reversal, which made his behaviorism possible, is explicable as a "creative misconstrual" of Dunlap's "motor" theory of imagination.

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