It can be said that the imagination consists exclusively of its objects, that it is knowable only through its objects, that it is remarkable among intentional states for not being easily separable into the double structure of state and object. Fear, for example, though certainly describable in terms of such objects as earthquakes and examinations, is also recognizable in terms of the intentional state, the felt experience, with its familiar bodily and psychological attributes. The same is true of other states such as joy and surprise, which are recognizable in terms of both objects and felt experiences.

In contrast, imagining is only its objects. There exists almost no account of the felt experience of image-making. This does not mean that we lack accounts of the action of imagining; we have a number. But, in almost every case, the action is wholly derived from whatever object happens to be put forth as its representative. If Pegasus is the example, then the discussion is centrally about the capacity of the imagination to take what is given in the natural world—such as horses and wings—and rearrange them into a new combination. If the representative object is the face of an absent friend—like Jean-Paul Sartre’s Annie and Pierre—then the discussion is centrally about the presence of imagining in everyday acts of perception (as it is for a philosopher like Mary Warnock). If the representative object is Yaweh—an object that explicitly prohibits any specification of attributes—then the discussion is about the near-impossibility of imagining without imagining something, a project made barely possible by the ability of “objectlessness” to be itself taken as an object.

Elaine Scarry, Dreaming by the Book