sábado, 22 de julio de 2017

Saint Augustine of Hippo - The confessions (Book X: On memory)

Is there anything so important than the human being's memory? Without it we could not go forward in any aspect of life; not even in the slightest of it. Another important subject is that of the soul which has been treated at length by all the philosophers who preceded St. Augustine of Hippo, and in addition to the philosophers who will come after Augustine. Of course there is a mixture between memory and soul, as these complement one another. Let's see what the saint of Hippo tells us about this.

The Confessions


Confession to God

This we could say is the great confession of St. Augustine, the philosopher feels trapped in a body and wants to give himself totally to God. This can remind us Plotinus's wishes, who felt like a soul trapped in a body; Someone who hated his own body.

Purpose of Confessions

Augustine goes deep into the true purpose of the confessions. Why write the confessions? Is it to be known by other men? What interest can the other men have? The purpose of the confessions is that men of all kinds of heart and God (who in fact already knows about the things of Augustine) know who is the philosopher.

Who knows whom?

This part of The Confessions can be one of the most interesting, because it discusses with God saying that there is something that does not know of itself; that is, Augustine does not know anything about himself, and only God knows that part. Hence his great question:

''What do I love when I love you?''

Augustine warns us that it is nothing corporal, not a light or anything that is on the earth. What is it your love? To God, but the truth is that metaphorically, Augustine asks all the elements of the earth (water, earth, fire and air) who respond that they are not Gods. On the contrary, these things (materiality) say to Augustine:

''Ipse fecit nos''
(He made us)

Not finding the answers of what he loves in God, Augustine has no one else to ask than himself: ''who am I?'' ''A man '' is answered, then he asks himself again since inside and responds ''I am the soul''. However, this soul also says to him:

''I am not God, I am his workmanship''

We could say that men have the great power to perceive what God is. But what is that thing that perceives? We know that it is not the body because it only perceives sensitive things. Animals also can not perceive God because if they were true they should avoid sin. Therefore, the only thing left for us is that it is the soul that can perceive all things. The soul would be the last step with which we can know God, but we still have no idea what we love from God.

The concept of memory

Memory, as we have said, is one of the most important soul faculties. All external things such as sound, images, movements are stored in the mind, as well as internal movements (feelings, emotions) are stored. Each has its own entrance, but its ''doors'' are different between the exterior and interior.

Mysteries of memory

For Augustine, the processes of memory storage are a total mystery, how does the memory store the content? In fact, one can evoke the white color while being in absolute darkness. Not only that, its administration is much more incredible because if man stores all stimuli from the outside, how can we correctly evoke all images, all sounds without confusing or mixing (although we can also mix them at will)? In fact, the memory can be very good even when we do not move our tongue or close our eyes completely.

The other thing that is fascinating is that the memory allows me to extract all the memories of the things that I liked the most, distinguishing very well one thing from another (flavors, sounds, smells). Also the skills of the arts or disciplines that are learned during the life are saved, but the difference with this is that the disciplines are not kept like images, that is to say, the mathematics, the grammar or the dialectic are not images.

The process of remembering

But how does this information come in? Through the senses, then, the memory stores them in the mind. On the other hand, all things we feel have a kind of validity in memory, that is, we do not know what is sweet until we try, but it seems that it is the soul who knows much before what is sweet before. We could say ''this is sweet''. This remembrance of things must be constant; for example, man must remember things over and over again so he will not forget. Hence the word think in Latin is ''cogitare'' which means '' to collect'', therefore, we could say that ''collect'' the memories. This might justly remind us of Plato's theory where learning actually means remembering.

How can we remember the numbers? Latin and Greek have their own numbers, but in both languages ​​numbers have something in common. That is, the numbers are understood in the two languages, but it is not necessary to know Latin or Greek to have the notion of number. That notion of number is common to all people without necessarily knowing the name of each number (one, two, three ...). Perhaps what Saint Augustine refers to is precisely the concept of unity, in fact, it is not necessary to have a special learning to know what unity is.

Now, there are many things that thanks to the images we have of them we can remember them; for example, if I remember the words stone or sun, they will not help me if I do not have the image of them. If it is not for the images we could not know nor remember that it is everything.

Memory can also remember facts that made us happy and sad, without necessarily becoming sad or cheerful. There is something similar between the soul and the memory, because much is said that who keeps something in the soul keeps it in the memory. However, how does one explain that the soul is happy and then remembers something sad? From this it is resolved that they are separate entities.

The Forgotten Theory

Forgetfulness is obviously deprivation of memory, but how is it possible that I can remember forgetting? Forgetfulness is within the memory, says Augustine because otherwise we could not know what forgetfulness is.

However, much remains to be solved in the matter of forgetfulness, for how can one remember something that consists in omitting memory? Agustín assumes that it is a difficult subject, but at the same time also says that he should know it because in his words "there is nothing closer to me than myself" and still "I can not know what memory is in effect , Is something of mine. ''

Also, when we remember oblivion, do we remember oblivion itself or an image of forgetfulness? Augustine says that forgetfulness is not retained in itself in memory, but is retained as an image. In fact, we remember the forgotten thing and not the forgetfulness itself, but how memory can give us an image of forgetfulness? Augustine finally tells us that we can only have an image of oblivion as mysterious and incredible as this phenomenon of forgetting may seem.

Transcend memory?

The ultimate goal of St. Augustine is to find God by whatever means. We already know that by the body is impossible, so that the closest thing that exists to approach God would be the soul. Augustine himself says that the memory must be transcended to find God, but this brings a problem. All that is out of memory is oblivion; How can we transcend the memory if we do not remember it? How can we remember God (and still come to him)?

Usually it happens that who loses a thing, by means of a method of mental discards finds what it lost. What helps us to find the lost? Just the image of that thing and behold the memory is important. Now, can we forget something absolutely? No, nothing is completely forgotten.

Happiness and memory

Everyone wants a happy life, or at least that is the end most men aspire to. Where does this memory of happiness come from? How can men know of happiness without having ever had it? Augustine tells us that happiness is in man in a mysterious way. If man recognizes happiness, then it must be in the memory, but if he recognizes it, it means that he already has it.

Do we remember happiness as well as remember a number? Do we remember happiness as if it were a kind of country where everyone is happy? Neither of these ways because happiness is not bodily. The only joy, the only happiness is God because God is not corporal or elemental.

Now, what about happiness? Is it chosen or innate? God is happiness, but why do not all have happiness? Simply because they do not want to choose it by will, although there is also pressure from the flesh, that is, meat makes the human being feel a "false" happiness and conform to it. However, we had said that happiness was a concept that man had already incorporated into his memory. How is it that man, knowing that it is happiness, chooses other ways to obtain it? It is simply because those things that are not divine happiness stop and delight them, making them want that is true happiness.

On the other hand, how can man know God? Did he have it in his memory as well as happiness? St. Augustine wondered how it was possible that he had notion or memory of God without ever having known him. The answer is that God is in the true things and that therefore, as all things that exist are true, between man and God there is no space, so it follows that God has always been with man.

The soul against the pleasures of the body

This is a subject of which all philosophers have spoken and St. Augustine is no exception. The pleasures of the body throw man by the ways of the flesh, but man is perfectly capable of leaving them.

St. Augustine accuses the senses of carrying sin without exception and also abhors those stimuli of the senses which are related to God and the E .; For example, the songs to King David that are delectable, but which never cease to be stimuli for the senses. Therefore, the stimuli and the senses are means to know other things, among them the truth, therefore, we must hear it, to see it or to feel it to know it.


What leads man to love these pleasures? St. Augustine tells us that it is curiosity. This leads us to want to know the mysteries of nature that ultimately do not serve anything to the life of man. No kind of science is useful if it is not accompanied by the great wisdom of God.

The praise

This is another theme that has been spoken by St. Augustine, because the importance of praise is an issue even to this day. Indeed, whom should we praise? If we focus on the S.E. We will see that it will always be good to love men, as long as it means to love God. The most dangerous of this is to stay with the power of habit and to love men before God.


Tremendously interesting the tenth book of St. Augustine that I leave in this blog. Never has the subject of memory been treated so truthfully in some ancient philosopher, in fact, this theory will go down in history to be treated by other philosophers, scientists and even psychologists who will take all these concepts to describe what memory is. Although there are many things explained about them, it is also incredible to reflect on the great mysteries of memory. St. Augustine was very humble in recognizing the limitations of why you can not know everything about memory.

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