Cultures and Cultural Production

“Memory in the Late Platonic Tradition”

Papachristou Ioannis

Research ProposalConferenceResearch ResultsShort BioPublications

Summary of the Research Proposal

The concept of memory may well be categorized as one of the most fundamental of human intellectual life; we all think we understand when we talk about ‘memory’ and we all think we are very familiar with the ways memory influences our lives. However, the concept of memory seems to have such a wide range of meanings that it is difficult to define; we remember how something is done, we remember facts about the world, we remember personal experiences or feelings. Philosophers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, neuroscientists and geneticists, all have tried, from their particular points of view, to identify memory with certain faculties and higher operations of the mind or to reduce it to the physical processes involved. They have thus treated memory as a minimal mechanism linking perception and thought, as a basic tool in the formation of universal concepts, or as an essential constituent in accounts of the self, consciousness and personal identity.
The proposed project focuses on the later and less studied history of the concept of memory in antiquity, and aims at revealing the different views about memory put forward by the late Platonists, for instance Iamblichus, Syrianus, Proclus, Hermeias, Damascius, Asclepius, and Olympriodorus. More specifically, the close reading of the relevant writings of these late authors intends to examine and elucidate three related aspects of the ancient concept of memory:
(i) The ontological aspect: Memory as a faculty of the soul; that is to say, what the position of memory is among the other faculties of the soul. Some the issues raised are the relation between imagination and memory and the ontological status of the objects of memory.
(ii) The epistemological aspect: Memory as part of a cognitive process; that is to say, how far memory contributes to the acquisition of knowledge. Some of the issues raised are the relation between memory and recollection, the relation between memory and experience, and the role of memory in the formation of universal concepts.
(iii) The ethical aspect: Memory as part of the human psychology: that is to say, what the role of memory is in relation to pleasure and other states that affect ethical actions.

This research project was funded by the Research Centre for the Humanities (RCH), with the support of the

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Research Project: “The Concept of Memory in Late Platonism”

Researcher: Dr. Ioannis Papachristou

The research project «The Concept of Memory in Late Platonism» was funded by the Research Centre for the Humanities (RCH) for the year 2017, with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

The concept of memory may well be categorized as one of the most fundamental of human intellectual life; we all think we understand when we talk about ‘memory’ and we all think we are very familiar with the ways memory influences our lives. However, the concept of memory seems to have such a wide range of meanings that it is difficult to define; we remember how something is done, we remember facts about the world, we remember personal experiences or feelings. Philosophers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, neuroscientists and geneticists, all have tried, from their particular points of view, to identify memory with certain faculties and higher operations of the mind or to reduce it to the physical processes involved. They have thus treated memory as a minimal mechanism linking perception and thought, as a basic tool in the formation of universal concepts, or as an essential constituent in accounts of the self, consciousness and personal identity.

The proposed project focuses on the later and less studied history of the concept of memory in antiquity, and aims at revealing the different views about memory put forward by the late Platonists, for instance Iamblichus, Syrianus, Proclus, Hermeias, Damascius, Asclepius, and Olympiodorus. More specifically, the monograph focuses on memory, oblivion and recollection. The questions found in their texts open a dynamic field for additional statements. In summary, we can mention the following issues that are studied in the monograph: the position of memory in the Platonic ontological system, the division of memory, memory and knowledge, memory and truth, oblivion as a necessary condition for recollection, objects of memory and recollection, the role of memory regarding the self-knowledge of the soul, memory and epistrophe (technical term of Platonism), memory and discursive reasoning as parts of the cognitive process. All these questions make up the mosaic of Platonic discussions on memory and recollection in late antiquity.

The results of the Research Project “The Concept of Memory in Late Platonism” highlight the following elements on the issue of memory in the last phase of Platonic philosophy in antiquity.

Memory becomes more important in the intellectual course of Platonic philosophy. While Plato has laid the foundations for developing a theory of memory, we cannot claim to have done the same for memory. In Plato, we cannot speak of a theory of memory, because beyond a definition of memory – which certainly did not reflect the whole range of the concept – there was no attempt to establish a theory. Late Platonists place memory in the epistemological and ontological system as a substrate governing the intelligible world. They are not just discussing memory in relation to the sensible world, but they consider memory as a necessary condition of episteme and knowledge of the intelligible realm; memory is not treated, as Plato and Aristotle suggest, as a passive storage but as a critical cognitive faculty.

For the first time, memory is established in accordance with the ontological levels that late Platonism accepts and it is linked to the truth. Late Platonists introduce the constrained notion of oblivion to overstate, on the one hand, the importance of memory and truth, and to clarify, on the other hand, that without oblivion there can be no recollection. The way we conceive of the sensible world is such because of oblivion (important here is the notion of ‘double ignorance’ introduced by late Platonism) and recollection is the mechanism that will bring us back to memory, to knowledge.

Plato’s concept of recollection was later transformed into a theory of self-knowledge of the soul. The soul in an attempt to regain its essence, after separation from the body, remembers the intelligible forms and the intelligible beauty. Soul returns to the intelligible nature from which it originates. Recollection in the sensible world is a means of learning, a kind of second knowledge of a thing that has previously gone into oblivion. When the soul acquires true knowledge again, i.e. when soul possesses memories, it regains self-knowledge and is brought into the intelligible realm to unite with the intellect from which it emerged and finally contemplate the Good.

 

Ioannis Papachristou studied at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Patras and obtained his MPhil from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He was awarded Dr. Philosophiae by Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The main field of his research is ancient philosophy, especially Platonism and Aristotelianism of Late Antiquity (epistemology, physics and metaphysics). His doctoral dissertation titled “Philoponus on Place. Redefining Place in Late Antiquity” was part of the Topoi Excellence Cluster 264 (Berlin) Research Program. During his PhD thesis he was a Visiting Student Research Collaborator at Princeton University. He has been a Visiting Researcher at Humboldt University in Berlin, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne (Labex RESMED, Center Leon Robin), at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Geneva and at the Research Centre for the Humanities in Athens. He received fellowships from the State Scholarships Foundation of Greece, the Topoi Excellence Cluster 264, the Fernand Braudel-IFER Foundation and the Research Centre for the Humanities (Athens- Stavros Niarchos Foundation). He was taught Greek paleography in the Historical and Paleographical Archive (Athens) and he successfully completed the seminar on Greek paleography “Griechische Paläographie, Handschriftenkunde und Editionswissenschaft at the “Zentrum Grundlagenforschung Alte Welt“ of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

 

 

 

 

Books

  • Ioannis Papachristou, Philoponus on Place (revision after blind-review, Leuven University Press).
  • Fabienne Baghdassarian, Ioannis Papachristou, Stéphane Toulouse (eds), Relectures néoplatoniciennes de la théologie d’Aristote, (forthcoming).
  • Ioannis Papachristou, Memory, Oblivion and Recollection in Late Platonism (in preparation).

Articles

  • ‘Ammonius Hermeiou on the Appearances of Ghosts’, in P. Golitsis, K. Ierodiakonou (eds.), Aristotle and His Commentators. Studies in Memory of Paraskevi Kotzia (collection of articles by C. Rapp, F. Lisi, C. Balla, S. Kouloumentas, C. Wildberg, P. Kalligas, D. Nikitas, M. Chriti, K. Ierodiakonou, N. Agiotis, I. Papachristou, P. Golitsis, S. Ebbesen), Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (forthcoming 2018).
  • ‘Philoponus on the Divine Substance: A Preliminary Study’, in F. Baghdassarian, I. Papachristou, S. Toulouse (eds.), Relectures néoplatoniciennes de la théologie d’Aristote (forthcoming 2018).
  • ‘Ioannes Philoponus’, in Willey-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Religion, Blackwell (forthcoming 2018).
  • ‘Alexander of Aphrodisias and Philoponus on the Forced Motion of Projectiles’, (submitted).
  • ‘Philoponus on the Temporality of the Cosmos’, (submitted).
  • ‘The Neoplatonic School of Alexandria’, ‘The Case of Hypatia’, ‘Olympiodorus’, ‘Ioannes Philoponus’, in Encyclopedia of Plato (2015). URL:http://n1.xtek.gr/ime/lyceum/?p=home&lang=2

Reviews

  • Παπαχρήστου, Ιωάννης: (Βιβλιοκρισία του:) Λάμπρος Κουλουμπαρίτσης: Η Φυσική του Αριστοτέλους (Αθήνα: Ακαδημία Αθηνών 2012). Κριτικά 2014-05, http://www.philosophica.gr/critica/2014-05.html
  • Παπαχρήστου, Ι.: (Βιβλιοκρισία του:) Pierre Hadot: Πλωτίνος ή η απλότητα του βλέμματος (Αθήνα: Αρμός 2007). Κριτικά 2009-12, http://www.philosophica.gr/critica/2009-12.html
  • Papachristou, I. (2006), “Ursula Coope, Time for Aristotle. Physics IV. 10-14”, Rhizai III/2, pp. 335- 338.

Other Publications

  • Ι. Παπαχρήστου, «Ιστορικές σημειώσεις για την Προικόννησο (Μαρμαράς) την περίοδο της οθωμανικής αυτοκρατορίας», in Δ. Παντέλας (επιμ.), Μικρασιάτης, 2018 (in press).
  • Ι. Παπαχρήστου, Τρία ποιήματα, στο ηλεκτρονικό Φρέαρ 2018.
  • I. Παπαχρήστου, Η ρίζα (διήγημα), Η Κινστέρνα, Περιοδικό Λόγου και Τέχνης 27/2017, pp. 14-23.
  • Ι. Παπαχρήστου, Π. Ποδάρας, Ι. Ρίζος (επιμ.), Αναγραφή της Κυζίκου. Ιστορική πραγματεία του 19ου αι. για την Κυζικηνή χερσόνησο, Εκδόσεις Κύζικος, Νέα Αρτάκη 2015. Awarded by Hestia Neas Smyrnes 2017.
  • Ιωάννης Παπαχρήστου, «Η ναυτιλία στον Μαρμαρά (1500-1922)», in Ελληνικοί παραθαλάσσιοι οικισμοί της Προποντίδας (συλλογικό), Εκδόσεις Κύζικος, Νέα Αρτάκη 2015, pp. 27-45.
  • Ιωάννης Παπαχρήστου, «Πλεύση», Ποιητική 13 (2014), pp.. 280-281.