The functional character of memory

In Dorothea Debus Kourken Michaelian (ed.), New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory. London: pp. 52-72 (2018)
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The purpose of this chapter is to determine what is to remember something, as opposed to imagining it, perceiving it, or introspecting it. What does it take for a mental state to qualify as remembering, or having a memory of, something? The main issue to be addressed is therefore a metaphysical one. It is the issue of determining which features those mental states which qualify as memories typically enjoy, and those states which do not qualify as such typically lack. In sections 2 and 3, 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. An alternative approach aimed at incorporating those lessons will be offered in section 4 by drawing on the literature on functionalism. In section 5, 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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