restricted access On Memory: Aristotle's Corrections of Plato
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On Memory: Aristotle's Corrections of Plato HELEN S. LANG THE De Memoria et Reminiscentia is remarkable for a number of reasons, including its strikingly Platonic language. On the basis of this language, the arguments of the De Memoria are sometimes judged "Platonic" and accordingly interpreted as a striking moment of"Aristotle's Platonizing. ''~ Against such heavy reliance on the presence of Plato in this treatise, one commentator dismisses the issue of Platonism in Aristotle as "a dull answer" to the philosophic problems in this treatise, and he treats these problems as if Aristotle's Platonic language were wholly irrelevant. 2 In the De Memoria, Aristotle first distinguishes people possessing a good memory from those excelling at recollection. The former are "slow ones"; the latter are "quick and good learners. ''3 Finally, memory is tied to sense-perception and the essential use of images while recollection rests with intelligence and requires images only accidentally. Plato, however, closely associates memory, recollection, and intelligence. 4 A good memory is possessed by all who are clever and quick to learn: Plato castigates the slow learner as forgetful and possessing a poor memory.6 Prima facie, then, Aristotle's separation of memory (and being "slow") from recollection (and being "quick") seems anti-Platonic. But in his constructive account of memory Aristotle quotes Plato, apparently utilizing a Platonic model of the relations between copies and originals.7The mysteries of this text how it appears to reach an anti-Platonic conclusion through the use of a Platonic model-- require an account both of its content and of its Platonic terminology. I shall argue that Aristotle first corrects Plato and only then quotes him. On this account, Plato's idiom is reinterpreted according to Aristotle's views, and so we find Platonic language impressed into the service of an anti-Platonic conclusion. Parva Naturaha: Revised Text with Introduction, andNotes, ed. W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), p. 16. These arguments are addressed by I Block,,"The Order of Aristotle's Psychological Writings," American Journal of Philology 82 (1961):50ff. Ross furthe~ argues his point in his edition of the De Anima (Oxford" Clarendon Press, 196,1)., pp. 7-12. This issue has provoked a continuous, and progressively more unwieldly, literature. For a most l~lpFal survey and classification of more recent studies, see W. F. R. Hardie, "Concepts of Consciousness in Aristotle," Mind 85 (1976): 388-411. 2 On Memory'. De Memoria et Reminescentia, trans., with interpretive summaries, by R. Sorabjl (London: Duckworth, 1972), p. 5. SorabJi himself considers Aristotle almost exclusively m terms of Humean and postHumean distinctions. 3De Memoria 1, 449b6-9. All translations of the De Memorza are those of J. I. Beare from the Oxford translation reprinted in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. R. McKeon (New York: Random House, I941), pp. 607-17. 4 Rep. 6, 486c ft.; Phil. 34 ft.; Phaedo 73b--c, e; Hipp Min. 368-369b. Phil. 60d, 64a5; Cratylus 437b3; Rep. 6,490cl 1,494b2; Tim, 74e8-75. 6Rep. 6, 486c~:1, Theaet. 194d. 7 Here we find a quote from Theaet 191d as well as references to hkenesses, images, and contemplation. [3791 380 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY This account requires several steps. (l) We must first establish Plato's view of memory as constitutive of sensation and tied to intelligence. Following Aristotle, I will consider primarily the Theatetus and Philebus. (2) I will consider Aristotle's arguments--and explicit criticisms of Plato--that memory relies on sensation and relates to intelligence only accidentally. Plato, in the Theaetetus, first suggests and then rejects an image of memory as like a wax tablet; this rejected image appears as the model par excellence of memory in the De Memoria. I shall argue that Plato's rejected model can be asserted by Aristotle only because Aristotle first radically reinterprets Plato's doctrine of sensation and memory. (3) I shall conclude that the Platonic language of the De Memoria is indeed important and cannot be ignored: it shows the availability of Platonic metaphysics for a thoroughly anti-Platonic reinterpretation. 1. Let us turn first to Plato's analysis of memory. In the Theaetetus the question, What is knowledge? turns into its opposite...