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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Memory and an enduring self

The phenomenon of Memory seems to me perhaps the biggest obstacle to the theory that there is no enduring self. If there is no such one, how could one be aware of one's memories?
Kant's idea of the 'elastic ball' effect, suggests that a self at time t1 could cause to be a self at time t2 and so on, until one reaches one's present self, which has been caused by a chain of preceding 'selves' and which, only because of that, shares many characteristics with them. I sense that some Buddhist arguments about the self might be similar to this one.
Both sorts of argument can explain the fact that the 'subject' at t1234 can remember something which happened at the 'subject' at t678. But what they fail to explain, I am afraid, is how is the phenomenon of memory possible. In memory one is not just aware of a past event. One is aware of is as past. Hence, one is at the same time aware of oneself in the present moment, no matter how dimly, of the oneself one used to be, and of their identity. Memory, in short, is not just a repetition of a past experience. It adds to the repetition of this past experience the sense that it is past and that it is one's own. Eduard Marbach observed (in his contribution to Exploring the Self, 2000) that this makes memory different from hallucination or dream.
Śaiva authors (I am thinking especially at Utpaladeva's vivṛti on his Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā + vṛtti) elaborated a lot on memory as evidence for an enduring self. However, as far as I know, they did not derive from that the logical consequence that memory is a distinct instrument of knowledge, since it does not just repeat the previous event, but adds to this repetition the knowledge that it is of a past event.


michael reidy said...

Hi Elisa,
Sorry if I came across as a bit sharp on the B.S.Bh question. I would say that you are well off if you have a background in philosophy to come to that great work without the guidance of the traditional commentators who echo each rather than question and reveal the aporiai.

On the memory question you will find an examination in B.S.Bh. II.ii.25. If you know the seminal work of Sydney Shomaker on Personal Identity you will readily note that Shankara was there before him. cf Self-Knowledge and Self Identity He also wrote a famous paper on the topic. John Perry in his collection on the theme of Identity has a chapter considering the work of Shoemaker. If you google 'Sydney Shoemaker and Memory' it is on Google Books. Personal Identity by John Perry page 119 ff.

Sorry to hit you with a reading list but it would be impertinent to offer you my interpretation as obiter dicta.

I wrote a little note on the 'annica' (accepted English spelling) question;

elisa freschi said...

Hi Michael,
you were not sharp (and, by the way, I like sharp comments). Thanks for the reading list. I only know Perry (and Shoemaker by hearsay), but I'll be tomorrow at the Philosophy Library and will try to find my way in his Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity. Thanks also for your note (sorry, I did not know that annica was an accepted spelling, I thought it was just a typo —how did it come about?). Personally, I agree with you (and Śaṅkara), but I think the elastic ball argument is worth considering. In fact, Kant did believe in personal identity, but he claimed that epistemological evidence is not (enough) to establish it. We rather need moral evidence for that.

elisa freschi said...

I finally read and enjoyed Shoemaker's essay in Perry's book. Now I shall just compare it to Śaṅkara… Do you think their concepts of 'memory' are equivalent?

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