Memory, Individuals, and the Past in Averroes’s Psychology
Medieval Philosophy and Theology, Vol. 5, no. 2 (1996)
Introduction Despite the resurgence of interest in the medieval conception of memory among scholars working in a wide variety of disciplines within medieval studies, little attention has been paid in recent times to the conception of memory found in the psychological writings of medieval philosophers, especially those from the Arabic tradition. Scholars interested in this Arabic material have had to rely on outdated studies of the internal senses in general, many of which were focused solely on the classificatory schemes and cerebral localization of these faculties to the neglect of their interest for medieval cognitive theory and epistemology. The present study attempts to remedy this lacuna by examining the theory of memory presented by Averroes in his psychological writings, especially his early Epitome of the “Parυa naturalia. “
I hope to show that Averroes’s account of memory is more complex than has often been assumed and that he accords to memory a central place within any complete act of sense cognition. I begin by examining the place of memory within Averroes’s account of the internal sense faculties in order to show that he conceives of memory as a perceptual faculty, not merely a retentive one.
Memory is not the faculty whereby we retain past perceptions or are aware of the past as past but rather the faculty by which we grasp the individual as such. This claim will be substantiated through a consideration of the two basic activities of the internal senses that Averroes associates with the use of the memorative faculty, analysis or abstraction and synthesis or composition. Moreover, I argue that my interpretation of Averroist memory as a perceptual faculty can be further supported by analogy with Averroes’s account of the parallel activities in the intellect. Finally, I suggest that while Averroes’s view of memory is a plausible one in its own right, his account is not without its ambiguities, particularly in the light of his understanding of the metaphysical status of individuals.