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Memoria Aristotelica, memoria Agostiniana.

Castagnoli, L. (2006) 'Memoria Aristotelica, memoria Agostiniana.', in Mente, anima e corpo nel mondo antico : immagini e funzioni. Pescara: Opera Editrice, pp. 141-160.


This article examines Aristotle's and Augustine's conceptions of memory, with special reference to De memoria and Confessions 10. In different ways, both conceptions are shaped by Plato's seminal (albeit non-systematic) reflections on memory. While Aristotle rejects the form of innatism at the core of Platonic recollection, memory still plays a crucial epistemological role in his thought, intervening between sense-perception and acquisition of universal concepts. The anti-Platonic consequence of the theses that memory is 'of the past' and, like thinking, cannot occur 'without images' is that memory cannot be the original site of (non-temporal) intelligibles or preserve them. Aristotle believes that intelligibles can become objects of memory only 'by accident': properly speaking, they (unlike episodes of cognitive awareness of them) are objects of knowledge, but not of memory (we do not remember what we know). Augustine's reception of Plato differs radically. It is possible to think without images, and our grasp of the intelligibles is not the result of a process of abstraction from sensible images stored in our memory. Memory can preserve not only images of sensibles, but also the intelligibles themselves (the Platonic model Augustine adopts is not the wax block, endorsed by Aristotle, but a 'tridimensional' one more reminiscent of Plato's aviary). The intelligibles are stored in our memory since birth, but only latently: learning is 're-collecting', unearthing and gathering them into a system of understanding. The Platonic influence is clear, but Augustine explicitly rejects pre-existence of the soul. The idea of Confessions 10 that memory is 'innate' without pre-existence risks appearing oxymoronic-and Augustine later abandons it for the 'theory of illumination' (e.g. in De Trinitate): we have an innate capacity for 'seeing' intelligible objects and truths (another obvious Platonic influence). I single out 'semantic memory' and memory as the nucleus of personal identity as Augustinian innovations.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Record Created:21 Jan 2008
Last Modified:08 Apr 2009 16:37

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