Concepts and Imagery in Episodic Memory

Anthropology and Philosophy 7 (1/2):95-107 (2006)
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The relationship between perceptual experience and memory can seem to pose a chal- lenge for conceptualism, the thesis that perceptual experiences require the actualization of conceptual capacities. Since subjects can recall features of past experiences for which they lacked corresponding concepts at the time of the original experience, it would seem that a subject’s conceptual capacities do not impose a limit on what he or she can experience perceptually. But this conclusion ignores the fact that concepts can be composed of other simpler concepts that a subject possessed earlier, and that de- monstrative capacities can explain how a subject can experience a particular feature of her environment, even when she lacks a fully general concept for that feature. Using these resources, conceptualism can explain the relation between perceptual experience and memory. Nevertheless, a puzzle remains for the defender of conceptualism. A cer- tain view about the relation between perceptual experience and mental imagery in epi- sodic memory – that imagery in recall matches the experience retained in it – can make it difficult to understand how conceptualism could be true. For if a subject’s conceptual capacities determine what the phenomenology of an experience (or memory of it) is like, then one would expect a perceptual experience and its recall in memory to differ in phenomenology if they involve different concepts. In this essay, I solve this puzzle for conceptualism by undermining the assumption that there is a match between im- agery in episodic memory and the phenomenal character of experience.
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