Stephen Bourque

Magical Environments and Animalistic Imagination: an Anti-Hierarchical Study of Animal Image Capacity

By, Stephen Bourque, Graduate Student in Philosophy at Temple University


The worlds of animals have often been treated as mere materialist and objective phenomenon in modern science. Jakob von Uexküll, in his observations as a biologist, recognized the importance of attributing to animals their own ‘umwelt’ or subjective perception worlds. In his observations on ‘magical realities,’ Uexküll  remarks, “…Each and every subject lives in a world in which there are only subjective realities and that environments themselves represent only subjective realities.”[1] Magical realities only add to the dimension of subjectivity inherent in any animal’s environment. Although without calling these magical projections onto the objects of our subjective realities imagination, Uexküll demonstrates that animals themselves have inherent in their perceptual worlds an active imagination. This question of the imagination plays itself out in projected image-actions as well as the performance in the day-to-day habitual survival and existence of animals. Uexküll’s contribution to the acknowledgement of subjective life-worlds of animals and they way they must function through the objective world (meaning-making) as well as the subjective imaginary world structuring their own perception, problematizes the relationship we have to our own imagination (and that of other animals imagination) and solidifies the role the imaginary plays in our everyday existence.

This essay seeks to explore Uexküll’s contributions to the imagination as well as those such as Aristotle, Edward Casey, Sartre, and others in an attempt to explore the role the imagination plays in habitual existence. This is order to question the inherent hierarchy in some thinkers’ projections of the imagination as a uniquely human attribute. The hope is that the line between human and animal is blurred and shifted in order to examine the actual role that this capacity plays in all members of the animal kingdom and that by exploring the different manifestations of the imagination in everyday performative actions, questions of the unique capacities every animal has in their subjective world can be appreciated in all their depth through no longer hierarchy but with rigor, richness, and admiration. More specifically, this essay will also seek to establish and explore differences in theories of the imaginary and how these theories relate, subjugate, or deconstruct hierarchies between humanity and the animal kingdom.

[1] Uexküll, J. v. A Foray Into the Worlds of Animals and Humans: With a Theory of Meaning. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2010. Pgs. 125-126.


Stephen M. Bourque is currently a philosophy graduate student at Temple University whose research interests comprise of the intersection and implications of philosophy, media, and biology.