Recollection and Thought

“The faculty of memory is both the cause and the repository of memory and recollection.  Memory is an image which has been left behind by some sensory or mental impression that has actually been received.  In other words, it is the retention of sensation and thought.  Thus, on the one hand, the soul apprehends or senses sensible objects through the organs of sense, and a mental impression is formed; on the other hand, it apprehends intellectual objects through the mind and a conjecture is formed.  Hence, when it retains the form of things of which it has received impressions, or of things of which it has thought, then it is said to remember.” John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith, Bk 2, Chap. 20., trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr., The Fathers of the Church vol. 37 (New York 1958), p. 245.                                                                      John_Damascus_(arabic_icon)

In this work John of Damascus (d. 749) included sections on philosophy.  While John sought to pass on the Eastern Christian theological tradition, his work also contained fascinating teaching concerning human nature.   Here John explains the nature of memory and its role in human understanding.  He continued:

“One must note that the apprehension of intellectual things comes only through learning, or the natural process of thinking.  It does not come from sensation, because sensible things are remembered in themselves, whereas intellectual things we do remember, provided we have learned something of them, but of their substance we have no memory.

Recollection is the recovery of memory that has been lost by forgetting, and forgetting is the loss of memory.  When the imaginative faculty has apprehended material things by means of the senses, it communicates [the impression] to the thinking faculty, or reasoning faculty–for both of these are the same thing.  When this faculty has received the impression and formed a judgment of it, it passes it on to the faculty of memory.” Ibid.


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