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Reason and Imagination

Reason, and technical/scientific reason in particular, was long considered the factor that best connotes the modern Western World; but the tragedies of the 20th century, most notably the extermination camps and the atom bomb, have clearly shown the inadequacy of that model. Reason must also take account of what differs from itself, namely, imagination. In exploring the relationship between reason and imagination in the Renaissance, we can also reflect on the complex problems of contemporary Europe.

For the Renaissance mind, reason was not incompatible with the imaginary plane, as shown by the close ties between astronomy and astrology. Politicians or rulers who strive to organize their people rationally must relate not only to its religion, but also to its superstitions, prophecies and whatever else may be believed. Regardless of whether a politician believes something or not (and for the most part, he firmly believes it), he will utilize it rationally to obtain consensus.

Imagination, viewed as the imaginary and symbolic level, can play an active role in the consolidation of power (civil, political or religious) or in the cohesion of a social group; and by so doing it serves a wholly rational function, of which its promoters are often fully aware. This is, in fact, the symbolic-imaginary function of the visual representations (paintings, statues, palaces, piazzas, etc.) often commissioned by powers that feel the need of consolidation and acknowledgement.

Related itineraries

  Following Machiavelli’s footsteps

  The Alhambra and Granada Caroline: the dream of Emperor

  Monastery of Serra do Pilar: a window on Europe

  Renaissance route in Malopolska