INTRODUCTION: This essay is going to demonstrate that memory is more a way of preserving justification than a source of justification. If knowledge is considered a justified truth belief and memory the preservation of the justification, the process of knowing and the one of remembering often intersect. The aim of this essay is to distinguish between the two processes. However the two processes belong to two different branches of philosophy. Knowledge belongs to epistemology and memory to metaphysics. Metaphysics is more abstract and therefore more difficult to delineate. The aim of this essay is just to highlight the key points and the unsolved questions.
DEFINITION: Firstly it is important to give a general definition of memory which comprehends its different types. The three main sorts of memory that are going to be covered are: the philosophers’ ‘habit memory’ which is, roughly, psychologists’ ‘procedural memory’ – both are contained in the grammatical construction ‘remembering how’; ‘Recollective memory’ which is ‘episodic memory’, also sometimes called ‘personal memory’, ‘experiential memory’, or ‘direct memory’ by philosophers; the ‘propositional memory’ or ‘semantic memory’ which is split in two different ‘remembering that’. In the first type of ‘remembering that’ the person in question did not experience X happening therefore it is a case of indirect evidence. For example the child has been told that his grandparents died in a car accident before his birth. On the other hand the second type of remebering that is a case of direct evidence, because is within the experience of the person in question, but with a lack of detail. An emblematic example of this last type -which is suggested by C.B. Martin and Max Deutscher in ‘Remembering’- is remembering an incident. Indeed after the incident the person unconsciously omits details because of the trauma. However, after an appropriate therapy the patient can become aware of the details previously omitted. This would show that he has always remembered the incident but in the first case he was unaware of the details, while in the second case he was aware of them. From this arises an issue that will be analysed later on i.e. if the awareness is a necessary element for memory. Getting back to the general distinctions between the three main sorts of memory it is important to notice that the ‘remembering how’ memory is different from the other types because it implies the physical act of doing something which is not necessarily connected with the mental/verbal representation of it. An example of this is the fact that a man can know how to knot his tie without being able to explain it to someone else. ‘On the other hand both semantic and episodic memories, whether linguistically expressed or not, usually aim at truth and are together sometimes called ‘declarative memory’’. They presuppose the representation of the past event. After all, in order to give a broad definition of the concept of memory we can pick out the three elements that all types have in common which are
- the past event E
- the present event E
- the relationship between the past and the present, which can be either an act or a representation of E.
CONTEXT: Once the concept of memory has been broadly defined it is possible to analysed the process of remembering with a wider picture, in comparison with the process of knowledge. Using the dialectic Hegelian method we can consider: the event itself as the thesis; the perceptual experience -which is the source of knowledge-, as the antithesis; the memory as the synthesis. Therefore
- Event: thesis
- Perceptual experience or source of knowledge: antithesis
- Memory: synthesis
Knowledge in its turn is defined as a ‘justified truth belief’. Therefore it is tripartited as:
- truth of the the belief
- justification of the truth belief
According to our definition, memory is:
- the past event E
- the present event E
- the relationship between the past and the present which can be either an act or a representation of E.
MEMORY & PERCEPTION: If the attention is focused on the difference between perceiving and remembering it becomes clear that they are ‘both conscious mental states which generate new beliefs’. In the case of perceiving, the generated belief is the source of knowledge and therefore the justified true belief. Also, beliefs about the material world are justified by perceptual experience because of the intrinsic character of that experience. Indeed perceiving is physical, phenomenal. On the other hand remembering does not seem to have a distinctive phenomenal character and therefore its beliefs of the past events seem not justified. According to credulism, however, memory beliefs are ‘prima facie’ justified in the absence of any competing reasons. Moreover, continuing the parallel between memory and perception, it can be noticed that beliefs about the material world are ‘prima facie’ justified by perceptual experience because perceptual experience is a reliable indicator of the character of the material world. Therefore, in the same way, there is the temptation to say that beliefs about the past are prima facie justified by memory because memory is a reliable indicator of the past. However, the justification of the belief consists in the past experience. Therefore, this leads us to the ‘circularity argument’ in which it is not possible to distinguish the cause and the effect. Until now there has been the attempt to consider memory as a source of justification, but without success. Therefore, from now on, memory is going to be considered not a source of justification, but a way of preserving justification, according to the theory of ‘preservationism’.
PRESERVATIONISM: ‘Preservationism’ is a valid alternative which solves, in part, the issues just raised. The perceptual experience is the source of knowledge of the event. Since knowledge is a justified truth belief the perceptual experience is the first justification in the regress. On turn, the justification of memory is the perceptual past experience. Thereforore, there is a diachronic account of epistemic justification. According to ‘reductionism’ the epistemic function of memory is simply to preserve existing justification. However, according to the indirect theories of memory, the direct object of memory is the representation of the past event and not necessarily the representation of the perceptual experience. For example, a person may remember the news he has read on the newspaper without remembering himself reading the newspaper.
‘OPERATIVITY’: Therefore, memory appears another time to be the source of the justification of the belief of the event instead of the preservation of the justification of the belief. However it’s fundamental to calrify that memory derives from the experience of the event and not from the event iteself. Indeed C.B. Martin and Max Deutscher in their work ‘Remembering’ introduce the concept of operativity. They say that ‘to remember an event, a person must not only represent and have experienced it, but also his experience of it must have been operative in producing a state or successive states in him finally operative in producing his representation’. This shows that even if someone that remembers an event does not remember the perceptual experience of it, the perceptual experience of it is still necessary for remembering, because of its operativity. Since the experience is knowledge and therefore justification, memory is a way –aware or unaware- of preserving the justification/ experience necessary in order to remember – if we don’t consider indirect knowledge.
AWARENESS: At this point it is important to analyse the concept of awareness. We can remember an event without rememebering the perceptual experience of it and we can also represent an event without the awareness that it happened. This leads us to distinguish between memory and immagination. The imagination is the representation of something without the belief that it happened while memory is the representation of something with the belief that it happened. However, it is not always the case that a person remembers with the awareness of being remembering. C.B Martin and Max Deutscher in ‘Remembering’ give the example of a painter who paints a detailed picture of something that he thinks is just an imaginary scene. However, his parents recognize the picture as the representation of something that the painter experienced in the past. In this case the painter needs an external ‘stimulus’ to become aware of his remembering.
THE PROMPTING: A propos of ‘external stimuli’ it is important to introduce another concept related to the operativity, which is ‘the prompting’. The prompting is a stimulus from the outside world which induces the person to remember. In fact, this stimulus is not strictly connected with the operativiy of the experience because the operativity of experience is intrinsic to the person in question while the prompting is extrinsic to him. In the end, however, they are related because the external prompting allows the operativity of the exeperience to come true through the representation of the past event. The following pattern shows the circular process of memory.
ISSUE: All considered, Preservationism seems to be the most plausible theory. However, in the period of time which elapses from the perceptual experience to the moment of remembering there is at least a moment in which the person in question is not able to represent the event. And, even if he is able to do it, it is not always the case that he is aware of remembering. Therefore, it seems that memory cannot be considered a way of preserving knowledge either.
SOLUTION: If the perceptual experience is operative it produces in the person in question a representation of the past event. This representation is contained in the mind of the person even if he is not aware of it. The person becomes aware of the representation after a prompting. This external stimulus allows the person to shed light on the contained representation.- However the relation between the operativity of the perceptual experience and the prompting remains a difficult point to analyse-. In the majority of cases the representation of an event implies the awareness of the fact that the event happened in the past. However, as we have seen before, it is not always the case. Therefore, sometimes, the person in question needs another stimulus from the outside world in order to become aware of the effective existence of the event. In the end it is a continuous exchange between the interior and the exterior world.
CONCLUSION: All considered, this essay has focused on the relation between the process of knowing and the one of remembering. However, the process of remembering is less straightforward and therefore more difficult to analyse. Said that, between the direct theories of Memory, -in which Memory is the source of the justification- and the indirect thoeries – in which Memory is not the source of the justification- the latters seem to be the most plausible. Between them, Preservationism stands out as the closest to the truth. However, it still leaves questions unsolved for example the relation between perceptual experience and the prompting. In fact, this relation cannot be considered biconditional because the prompting does not always occur after the experience.
C.B. Martin and Max Deutscher 1966. ‘Remembering’. Reprinted in Bernecker and Dretske (eds), Knowledge: Readings in Contemporary Epistemology. pp. 512-36
Gilbert Ryle. 1973. ‘Memory’ in his The concept of Mind (Penguin). pp. 257-63
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ‘Memory’. First published Tue Mar 11, 2003; substantive revision Wed Feb 3, 2010.