Consciousness and Memory: A Transactional Approach

Essays in Philosophy 19 (2):231-252 (2018)
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The prevailing view about our memory skills is that they serve a complex epistemic function. I shall call this the “monistic view.” Instead of a monistic, exclusively epistemic approach, I propose a transactional view. On this approach, autobiographical memory is irreducible to the epistemic functions of episodic memory because of its essentially moral and empathic character. I argue that this transactional view provides a more plausible and integral account of memory capacities in humans, based on theoretical and empirical reasons. Memory, on this account, plays two distinctive roles. The episodic memory system satisfies epistemic needs and is valuable because it is a source of justification for beliefs about the past. Autobiographical memory satisfies moral and narrative-autonoetic needs, and is valuable because it is a source of personally meaningful and insightful experiences about our past. Unlike autobiographical memory, episodic memory is only weakly autonoetic. The relation between these two roles of memory is captured by the tension between a narrative and an accurate report.
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