The functionalist theory of memory

Wednesday 22 November 2017, 4.00PM to 5.30pm

Speaker: Dr Jordi Fernandez, University of Adelaide

The functionalist theory of memory

The purpose of this paper is to determine what is to remember something, as opposed to imagining it, perceiving it, or introspecting it. First, I will discuss the two main existing conceptions of the conditions that a mental state must satisfy to count as an episode of remembering. The first of these approaches is backward-looking. It puts forward conditions that strictly concern the aetiology of the mental state. I will argue that the conditions offered by the backward-looking approach are both too strong and too weak: They rule out mental states which, intuitively, count as memories while including mental states which, intuitively, do not qualify as memories. The second approach is forward-looking. It puts forward conditions that only concern the use that the subject makes of the mental state while forming beliefs about their own life. I will argue that the conditions proposed by the forward-looking approach are both too weak and too strong as well. However, the discussion of the two approaches will allow us to extract some helpful lessons on the constraints that any proposal about the nature of remembering should respect. I will draw on the literature on functionalism to offer an alternative approach. I will argue that this approach can, on the one hand, accommodate as memories those mental states which indicate that the backward-looking approach and the forward-looking approach are too strict while, on the other hand, excluding those mental states which suggest that the two alternative approaches are too permissive. Accordingly, I will conclude that construing memory along functionalist lines is a satisfactory approach to the nature of remembering.

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Location: Department of Philosophy, Sally Baldwin Building, Block A, Room SB/A009

Admission: Departmental colloquium members and postgraduate students