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In fact, Wittgenstein implicitly rejected the imagery theory of meaning even in his early work – the so called “picture theory of meaning” of the Tractatus (Wittgenstein, 1922) is not a version of the imagery theory – but an explicit critique appears only in his posthumously published later writings (although the arguments were already influential during his lifetime, long before they saw print). Perhaps the most sustained critique of the imagery theory of meaning occurs in the opening pagesof The Blue and Brown Books (Wittgenstein,1958), although the pithier remarks in the Philosophical Investigations (1953 – especially §139f) may have been more influential. Many other remarks and arguments scattered through Wittgenstein's other posthumously published writings, particularly in Zettel (1967), the Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology (1980a, 1980b), and the Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology (1990), demonstrate that he was fascinated by imagery, but deeply skeptical not only about the large cognitive role traditionally assigned to it, but also about the traditional understanding of the image as a sort of inner picture (see, e.g. 1953 I §301, II pp. 196e & 213e).

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It is sometimes objected that a description theory, like Pylyshyn's, is incompatible with the phenomenology of imagery (e.g., Fodor, 1975 p. 188). After all, having a mental image of a cat does not seem anything like reciting a description of a cat to oneself. However, this seems to be based on having drawn too close an analogy between the mentalese descriptions intended by the theory and descriptions inEnglish (or other natural languages). In the first place, although wecan be conscious of English sentences as such, we are (pretty much ex hypothesis) never conscious of our mentalese representations as such, but only (at most) of what they represent. Thus there is no reason to expect that entertaining a mentalese description would subjectively seem anything at all like reciting, orreading, or otherwise thinking of a description in English. In the second place, Pylyshyn presumably holds (quite consistently with mainstream “information processing” theories of perception (e.g., Marr, 1982)) that percepts, the end products of visual processing in the brain, are also mentalese descriptions. Thus his theory readily accounts for the phenomenological similarity between imagery and perceptual experience. (If, as seems likely, the perceptual descriptions are typically more detailed than those of imagery, this might also account for any phenomenological differences between imagery and perception.)


What is the figurative language, symbolism, and imagery …

Initially, the concurrent rises of imagery research and computationalpsychology, through the 1960s and into the 1970s, played mutuallyreinforcing roles within the cognitivist revolution againstBehaviorism, because they both implied that the concept of mentalrepresentation should play a central role in the science of themind. However, a tension soon became apparent between the symbolic andsyntactic concept of mental representation that came from ArtificialIntelligence and the, on the face of it, very different concept ofrepresentation implicit in the work of the imagery researchers. Theanalog-propositional debate, and much of the passion and partisanshipit aroused, grew out of that tension, and, more particularly, thedesire to bring imagery within the fold of computationalfunctionalism.


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It is important to be clear that just because Sartre (and Ryle, Shorter, Ishiguro, and others) hold that mental images are not inner pictures, nor even, indeed, any sort of entity, they are not thereby denying that people have quasi-perceptual experiences, or even that these may sometimes be very vivid. Unfortunately, perhaps because thenotion that such experiences are caused by inner pictures is so entrenched in our folk psychology, this point does not always seem tohave been clear to critics of such views, and it has even been occasionally suggested that they could not possibly be held by anyonepersonally familiar with the experience of imagery.[] However, a careful reading of these apparently iconophobic authors soon reveals that they in no way intend to deny the experiential reality of imagery, and most of them make their personal familiarity with it quite clear.[] They deny only that such experience, however vivid it might be, is caused by (or embodied as) inner pictures.

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Indeed, even in the late 19th century Frege (1884 §§59–60) had already argued against the traditional view that the meaningfulness of language derives from the mental images that we associate with words. Images, he pointed out, are subjective and idiosyncratic, whereas word meanings are objective and universal. However, the almost unanimous scorn with which the imagery theory of meaning was regarded by late 20th century analytic philosophers seemsmainly to be due to the influence and arguments of the later Wittgenstein (Candlish, 2001; Nyíri, 2001). Today, it is largely thanks to Wittgenstein's efforts that,