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From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory - page 2 / 23

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1298

AMERICAN BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST

The medieval practice of studying philosophy as a way to know oneself and the medieval problem of rhetorically establishing one’s relationship to a subject took different forms in theories of human religion and consciousness. Similarly, human memory and memorization have also been interpreted and applied dif- ferently in historical and contemporary conceptualizations of self. This article compares some medieval societal concepts of self-knowledge to early sociolog- ical conceptions of self and consciousness. It considers the relationship that social conceptions of memory, memorization, and mnemonics have to early sociological theories about collective memory and their historical and social contexts. The article considers interpretations of the self, conscience, religion, and morality and their historically changing relationships to one another.

SELF-KNOWLEDGE, MEMORY, AND MORALITY IN MEDIEVAL SOCIETY

In the 12th century, Platonism was taught at an institute of St. Victor’s monas- tery outside of Paris. According to those who studied at St. Victor’s, scholarly study was internal self-reflection regarding the obscured connections between self and nature. The learned human was not a walking repository of facts but rather, someone who distinguished details from the whole and dialogued with other scholars by use of rhetoric and Aristotelian rules of logic.

Memory and discourse as used in medieval philosophy and pedagogy were instrumental to and predecessors of objective thinking as advanced by Abelard, Augustine, and others who wished to make the “assent to articles of faith some- thing more than blind acceptance to authority” (Piltz, 1981, pp. 40-41). Chris- tian philosophy relied heavily on faith and tradition, whereas Abelard’s evaluative, reflective, and objective approach did not entail the scholar having first decided his personal relationship to that which was to be interpreted, thereby revolutionizing the dialectic conception of human agency and morality (Nelson, 1965, p. 64; Nelson, 1981, pp. 34-66). Thus, solutions to problems were no longer the exclusive domain of authorities with access to divinely inspired truth (Piltz, 1981, p. 83).

The 12th and 13th centuries are interpreted today as a time of “movement from a neo-Platonist matter/spirit dualism, influenced profoundly by Augustine (though not identical with his thought), to an Aristotelian hylemorphism articu- lated most successfully by Thomas Aquinas” (Carruthers, 1990/1996, p. 13). Medieval belief systems incorporated a hierarchical vision of the world in which all things, material and nonmaterial, were categorized according to their degree of perfection (with God being perfection). All other material or nonmaterial entities were endowed with or receivers of various degrees of “being” or “light” from God.

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