Philosophy Colloquium
Sarah Robins
University of Kansas
The Particularity Argument for Memory Traces

Memory traces are a persistent yet puzzling feature of our thinking about memory. They have been a part of theorizing about memory for as long as there has been theorizing about memory. Nowadays, many philosophers and memory scientists view traces as unnecessary and outdated, but disagree about what’s being rejected and why. Whether memory traces should persist or not, we need a clearer understanding of the role they are meant to play in an account of remembering, and what they must be like in order to play that role. In this talk, I take on the first half of this project. I review a set of standard arguments given for the existence of traces, finding problems with each. I then propose a new argument: the existence of memory traces provides the best explanation of our ability to remember particular past encounters. As part of the move away from trace-based accounts of remembering, many memory theorists now try to explain such cases of remembering particulars in terms of general cognitive principles. Looking closely at examples, however, exposes the limitations of this approach. Separating the roles of traces from that of general cognition not only helps explain remembering, it offers a novel characterization of the complementary roles these processes play in cognition.

Friday, April 30, 2021