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This paper considers the ethical significance of self-involving imagination, where we imagine ourselves as others. This form of imagination occurs in taking on personal ideals, in simulation of others’ mental states, and when we imagine ourselves as characters in acting or in videogames and virtual reality. The ethical concern is that the imaginer might be morally corrupted as troubling attitudes taken on in imagination leak into their actual psychology. This worry is heightened for interactive media as imagined attitudes play a significant role in motivating action, hence more plausibly might start to influence us outside of the imaginative context.

I note two mechanisms which serve to prevent leakage of immoral attitudes, dampening this ethical concern. First, we often face heightened imaginative resistance to taking on immoral mental states. This prevents us even imagining holding certain immoral attitudes. Second, whilst we generally passively quarantine our attitudes to the imaginative context, in morally charged cases we also more actively quarantine – we take on immoral attitudes in imagination but are consciously careful not to acquire them in reality. This pair of guarding mechanisms help prevent our becoming morally corrupted through self-involving imagination.


Alexander Fisher

University of Cambridge