Memory as Direct Awareness of the Past

  • Norman Malcolm
Part of the Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures book series (RIPL)


The philosophy of memory has been largely dominated by what could be called ‘the representative theory of memory’. In trying to give an account of ‘what goes on in one’s mind’ when one remembers something, or of what ‘the mental content of remembering’ consists, philosophers have usually insisted that there must be some sort of mental image, picture, or copy of what is remembered. Aristotle said that there must be ‘something like a picture or impression’;1 William James thought that there must be in the mind ‘an image or copy’ of the original event;2 Russell said that ‘Memory demands an image’.3 In addition to the image or copy a variety of other mental phenomena have been thought to be necessary. In order for a memory image to be distinguished from an expectation image, the former must be accompanied by ‘a feeling of pastness’. One has confidence that the image is of something that actually occurred because the image is attended by ‘a feeling of familiarity’. And in order that you may be sure that the past event not merely occurred but that you witnessed it, your image of the event must be presented to you with a feeling of ‘warmth and intimacy’. When all the required phenomena are put together, the mental content of remembering turns out to be, as William James says, ‘a very complex representation’.4


Past Event Mental Image Mental Content Present Event Psychological Concept 
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Copyright information

© Royal Institute of Philosophy 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman Malcolm

There are no affiliations available

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