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International Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 51, Issue 4, December 2011

Joe McCoy
Pages 451-466
DOI: 10.5840/ipq201151448

Re-examining Recollection
The Platonic Account of Learning

The doctrine of recollection is one of the most controversial in the Platonic corpus, and much scholarship has been aimed at altering the doctrine to resolve its paradoxical features, many of which, I argue, are generated by a failure to appreciate the difference between memory (mneme) and the distinct capacity of recollection (anamnesis). In several of the Platonic dialogues, Socrates gives an account of how recollection functions in ordinary contexts, and thus provides a basis for showing how anamnesis may be employed to describe learning in general. The mystery of learning consists in the fact that one must possess some knowledge of the matter being investigated prior to learning about it, and thus learning may be aptly described as a remembrance of some knowledge previously forgotten. I argue that the recollection account was formulated, not to resolve this mystery, but rather to capture descriptively its essential features.