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Aristotle ON MEMORY AND REMINISCENCE Complete

Translated by J. Beare.

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On Memory And Reminiscence, by Aristotle


Part 1

We have, in the next place, to treat of Memory and Remembering, considering its nature, its cause, and the part of the soul to which this experience, as well as that of Recollecting, belongs. For the persons who possess a retentive memory are not identical with those who excel in power of recollection; indeed, as a rule, slow people have a good memory, whereas those who are quick-witted and clever are better at recollecting.

We must first form a true conception of these objects of memory, a point on which mistakes are often made. Now to remember the future is not possible, but this is an object of opinion or expectation (and indeed there might be actually a science of expectation, like that of divination, in which some believe); nor is there memory of the present, but only sense-perception. For by the latter we know not the future, nor the past, but the present only. But memory relates to the past. No one would say that he remembers the present, when it is present, e.g. a given white object at the moment when he sees it; nor would one say that he remembers an object of scientific contemplation at the moment when he is actually contemplating it, and has it full before his mind;-of the former he would say only that he perceives it, of the latter only that he knows it. But when one has scientific knowledge, or perception, apart from the actualizations of the faculty concerned, he thus 'remembers' (that the angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles); as to the former, that he learned it, or thought it out for himself, as to the latter, that he heard, or saw, it, or had some such sensible experience of it. For whenever one exercises the faculty of remembering, he must say within himself, 'I formerly heard (or otherwise perceived) this,' or 'I formerly had this thought'.

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