The adverb imaginatively is defined as 'in a way that shows creativity or inventiveness' in dictionaries.

Now, please consider this sentence from Bertrand Russell:

in any very large organization, and above all in a great state, officials and legislators are usually very remote from those whom they govern, and not imaginatively acquainted with the conditions of life to which their decisions will be applied.

What does he mean by the word imaginatively here? Does acquainting with 'the conditions of life to which their decisions will be applied' need creativity or could be done creatively? Could imaginatively be replaced with very much here with no significant change in meaning?

  • 1
    ' ... they can't imagine the conditions those their decisions will affect are living in.' Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 22:31
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    Yeah, you need to read it more literally -- these people do not/cannot imagine the conditions of life of others.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 23:36

2 Answers 2


Imagination is the mental power to imagine – the ability to create images in one’s mind. Creating mental pictures is not necessarily artistic creativity, and this is what might be tripping you up. Simply creating a picture in your mind is an act of imagination, even when the picture is as mundane as a drainpipe or a traffic sign.

Understood in this light, Russell is only saying that governors often are so far removed from what they are governing that they have no practical mental picture of it.

He goes on to argue that bureaucrats really only have a practical mental picture of the rigid environment in which they work. This is why, in Russell’s view, bureaucrats tend to impose rigid schemes on whoever they are governing, regardless of whether that interferes with creativity and self-determination and leads to a stifled culture. It is the only way of life that they can practically imagine:

This makes them ignorant of much that they ought to know, even when they are industrious and willing to learn whatever can be taught by statistics and blue-books. The one thing they understand intimately is the office routine and the administrative rules. The result is an undue anxiety to secure a uniform system. … The result inevitably has something of the deadly dullness of a new rectangular town, as compared with the beauty and richness of an ancient city which has lived and grown with the separate lives and individualities of many generations.
Bertrand Russell, Political Ideals

  • +1 because ... I'm not usually a fan of Russell, but this shows he understood what's what at a more empathetic level than his reputation for logic often suggests. Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 1:41

It means that the politicians and officials, being highly educated, sophisticated, and financially secure, do not feel in their emotions, as distinct from considering in their minds, what life is like for the people affected by their decisions but being so unlike themselves,

If the word "imaginatively"were replaced with "very much" the statement would be much weaker, simply a factual statement of ignorance, saying nothing about emotions or empathy.

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