The eighteenth century is commonly thought of as the “age of reason”, an age in which the imagination was not given a central role in the arts, far less in science. But in Hume's attempts to account for our belief in a continuing external world he is forced into invoking the activity of the imagination. His views on the activity of the imagination greatly influenced Adam Smith, who adapted them to fashion a theory of the psychology of scientific discovery. In this theory the imagination is shown to be active in creating systematic explanations of the phenomena of nature, to the extent that Smith depicts the aim of scientific theory as that of satisfying the imagination. Smith's account of the logic of scientific theory can be defended even in contemporary philosophy of science. In particular, it can be maintained that all scientific theories are works of the imagination and that the concept of truth does not directly apply to them.
- Adam Smith
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Robin Downie is Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.