Memory, Recollection and Consciousness in Spinoza's Ethics

Society and Politics 12 (2):50-71 (2018)
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Spinoza’s account of memory has not received enough attention, even though it is relevant for his theory of consciousness. Recent literature has studied the “pancreas problem.” This paper argues that there is an analogous problem for memories: if memories are in the mind, why is the mind not conscious of them? I argue that Spinoza’s account of memory can be better reconstructed in the context of Descartes’s account to show that Spinoza responded to these views. Descartes accounted for the preservation of memories by holding that they are brain states without corresponding mental states, and that the mind is able to interpret perception either as new experience or as memory. Spinoza has none of these conceptual resources because of his substance monism. Spinoza accounts for memories as the mind’s ability to generate ideas according to the order of images. This ability consists in the connection of ideas, which is not an actual property, but only a dispositional one and thus not conscious. It is, however, grounded in the actual property of parts of the body, of which ideas are conscious.

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Oliver Toth
University of Graz


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