Memory, Epistemology of. Conee, E. In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Vol. 6). Routledge, London, 1998.
abstract   bibtex   
Memory appears to preserve knowledge, but there are epistemic questions about how this could be. Memory is fallible, and empirical research has identified various ways in which people systematically misremember. Even wholesale error seems possible: Russell (1927) proposed that it is logically possible for the world to have sprung into existence five minutes ago, complete with spurious ostensible memories of earlier times. In light of such possibilities, some sceptics argue that memory cannot yield knowledge. Assuming that memory provides knowledge, there are serious epistemic issues about how it does this. For instance, does some introspectible quality of remembering provide distinctive evidence for what is remembered, or is it some other feature of memory that secures the epistemic justification needed for knowledge? How readily recollectible must a proposition be in order for it to be known while it is not being recalled? Does a full retention in memory of a previous basis for knowing something assure continuing knowledge of it? Does forgetting an original basis for knowing without replacing it imply a loss of knowledge? 1 Memory and traditional epistemic issues Epistemic controversies about matters specific to memory are comparatively rare. There are two apparent reasons for this. One is that remembering is a source of reasons for belief with approximately the same problems and prospects as sensory perception (see Perception, epistemic issues in). The two processes share the salient features of being conscious, cognitive episodes that prompt new beliefs without apparent inference. Of the two, perception seems the more promising source of justification. This is principally because conscious sensory characteristics are clearly involved in ordinary sensory perception. They provide something that might confer justification on some resulting perceptual beliefs, though it is problematic how sensory characteristics could justify beliefs. In contrast to the perceptual case, no conscious qualities are clearly distinctive of recollective events. There may be less of a basis on which to explain how memory can furnish justification and knowledge. Thus, the outcome of investigations of the epistemic properties of perception is plausibly thought to carry over to the case of memory, with memory perhaps turning out to have weaker versions of the same epistemic capacities. A second reason for the relative paucity of epistemic work on memory may be the prevalence in epistemology of disputes about scepticism. In virtually all sceptical controversies, remembering plays at most a derivative epistemic role. Memory on its own serves as a means of knowledge preservation, not knowledge acquisition. The fundamental sceptical issues concern whether justified belief or knowledge can be had in the first place. For instance, if some sceptical argument shows that we can have neither perceptual knowledge nor justified perceptual belief, then no important epistemic question about recalling perceptual beliefs seems to remain. If on the other hand scepticism about some such category of knowledge is refuted, then memory offers only the prospect of retention of knowledge in that category. This is not to say that knowledge retention is unimportant. Retaining nothing, we could know only the facts that we could learn entirely in a moment. But retention seems less epistemically fundamental than do capacities that arguably enable us to acquire new knowledge. Some sceptical challenges have specifically addressed memory knowledge. The sceptical arguments have generally charged that something about the vulnerability of memory to error shows it not to be a source of reasons sufficiently strong to provide knowledge. But again, memory is not unique in the relevant epistemic respects. Assessments of analogous sceptical arguments concerning sensory perception carry over to this sort of attack on memory knowledge. The familiar mechanisms of deception such as ordinary sorts of error, the evil demon of Descartes and the illusory stimulations of electrodes, are capable of producing as pervasive and deceptive a replication of veridical experiences in the case of sensory experiences as in the case of ostensible memories. Anti-sceptical responses typically deny that such a deception is genuinely possible, or that its possibility shows that we lack knowledge (see Scepticism). These denials have the same merits whether the argument is aimed at knowledge by perception or knowledge by recollection. Although memory knowledge is one of the most important applications of sceptical reasoning, memory does not raise any distinctive basic sceptical issues. 2 An epistemic problem specially involving memory retention One epistemic problem of considerable interest does essentially involve the capacity of memory to preserve.
@incollection{Conee1998,
abstract = {Memory appears to preserve knowledge, but there are epistemic questions about how this could be. Memory is fallible, and empirical research has identified various ways in which people systematically misremember. Even wholesale error seems possible: Russell (1927) proposed that it is logically possible for the world to have sprung into existence five minutes ago, complete with spurious ostensible memories of earlier times. In light of such possibilities, some sceptics argue that memory cannot yield knowledge. Assuming that memory provides knowledge, there are serious epistemic issues about how it does this. For instance, does some introspectible quality of remembering provide distinctive evidence for what is remembered, or is it some other feature of memory that secures the epistemic justification needed for knowledge? How readily recollectible must a proposition be in order for it to be known while it is not being recalled? Does a full retention in memory of a previous basis for knowing something assure continuing knowledge of it? Does forgetting an original basis for knowing without replacing it imply a loss of knowledge? 1 Memory and traditional epistemic issues Epistemic controversies about matters specific to memory are comparatively rare. There are two apparent reasons for this. One is that remembering is a source of reasons for belief with approximately the same problems and prospects as sensory perception (see Perception, epistemic issues in). The two processes share the salient features of being conscious, cognitive episodes that prompt new beliefs without apparent inference. Of the two, perception seems the more promising source of justification. This is principally because conscious sensory characteristics are clearly involved in ordinary sensory perception. They provide something that might confer justification on some resulting perceptual beliefs, though it is problematic how sensory characteristics could justify beliefs. In contrast to the perceptual case, no conscious qualities are clearly distinctive of recollective events. There may be less of a basis on which to explain how memory can furnish justification and knowledge. Thus, the outcome of investigations of the epistemic properties of perception is plausibly thought to carry over to the case of memory, with memory perhaps turning out to have weaker versions of the same epistemic capacities. A second reason for the relative paucity of epistemic work on memory may be the prevalence in epistemology of disputes about scepticism. In virtually all sceptical controversies, remembering plays at most a derivative epistemic role. Memory on its own serves as a means of knowledge preservation, not knowledge acquisition. The fundamental sceptical issues concern whether justified belief or knowledge can be had in the first place. For instance, if some sceptical argument shows that we can have neither perceptual knowledge nor justified perceptual belief, then no important epistemic question about recalling perceptual beliefs seems to remain. If on the other hand scepticism about some such category of knowledge is refuted, then memory offers only the prospect of retention of knowledge in that category. This is not to say that knowledge retention is unimportant. Retaining nothing, we could know only the facts that we could learn entirely in a moment. But retention seems less epistemically fundamental than do capacities that arguably enable us to acquire new knowledge. Some sceptical challenges have specifically addressed memory knowledge. The sceptical arguments have generally charged that something about the vulnerability of memory to error shows it not to be a source of reasons sufficiently strong to provide knowledge. But again, memory is not unique in the relevant epistemic respects. Assessments of analogous sceptical arguments concerning sensory perception carry over to this sort of attack on memory knowledge. The familiar mechanisms of deception such as ordinary sorts of error, the evil demon of Descartes and the illusory stimulations of electrodes, are capable of producing as pervasive and deceptive a replication of veridical experiences in the case of sensory experiences as in the case of ostensible memories. Anti-sceptical responses typically deny that such a deception is genuinely possible, or that its possibility shows that we lack knowledge (see Scepticism). These denials have the same merits whether the argument is aimed at knowledge by perception or knowledge by recollection. Although memory knowledge is one of the most important applications of sceptical reasoning, memory does not raise any distinctive basic sceptical issues. 2 An epistemic problem specially involving memory retention One epistemic problem of considerable interest does essentially involve the capacity of memory to preserve.},
address = {London},
author = {Conee, Earl},
booktitle = {Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Vol. 6)},
editor = {Craig, Edward},
file = {:Users/khm/Library/Application Support/Mendeley Desktop/Downloaded/Conee - 1998 - Memory, Epistemology of.pdf:pdf},
publisher = {Routledge},
title = {{Memory, Epistemology of}},
year = {1998}
}
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