Practical Imagination and its LimitsSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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It is common to talk about options, where an option is a course of action an agent can take. A course of action, in turn, is that which can be the object of intention. It has not often been noticed in the literature, though, that there are two ways to understand what makes something an option: first, an option just is some course of action physically open (or, to be maximally liberal, logically open) to an agent; second, an option just is some course of action that the agent either in fact deliberates about taking or is psychologically capable of deliberating about taking. At any given time, there are far more courses of action open to an agent than the agent can or does deliberate about taking. What determines which courses of action an agent deliberates about as an option, and why do so many other courses of action remain out of deliberative view? I argue that while values, ends, the demands of both means-end coherence and consistency of beliefs contribute to the determination of which courses of action an agent sees as options, they cannot be the whole story. I argue that another mechanism, which I call the practical imagination, is primarily responsible for which courses of action an agent sees as options. Drawing upon both recent work in developmental and social psychology and a strain of philosophical argument that has attempted to show how human beings have a practical understanding of themselves that is mediated by what we can call a narrative identity, I argue that the norms governing the construction of a narrative identity are among the most important, albeit not the only, norms governing the practical imagination and that, just as we should look to the norms of practical reason to explain and critically reflect on practical deliberation, we should look to the norms of practical imagination to explain and critically reflect on the process by which an agent comes to see some course of action as an option.