Beyond the causal theory? Fifty years after Martin and Deutscher

In Kourken Michaelian, Dorothea Debus & Denis Perrin (eds.), New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory. Routledge. pp. 13-32 (2018)
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It is natural to think of remembering in terms of causation: I can recall a recent dinner with a friend because I experienced that dinner. Some fifty years ago, Martin and Deutscher (1966) turned this basic thought into a full-fledged theory of memory, a theory that came to dominate the landscape in the philosophy of memory. Remembering, Martin and Deutscher argue, requires the existence of a specific sort of causal connection between the rememberer's original experience of an event and his later representation of that event: a causal connection sustained by a memory trace. In recent years, it has become apparent that this reference to memory traces may be out of step with memory science. Contemporary proponents of the causal theory are thus confronted with the question: is it possible to develop an empirically adequate version of the theory, or is it time to move beyond it? This chapter traces the recent history of the causal theory, showing how increased awareness of the theory’s problems has led to the development of modified version of the causal theory and ultimately to the emergence of postcausal theories.

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Sarah Robins
Purdue University


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