From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy of memory, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on the philosophy of memory. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on the philosophy of memory in no particular order.
Memory: A Very Short Introduction – Johnathan K. Foster
Category: Short Introduction | Length: 142 pages | Published: 2008
Publisher description: Memories are an integral part of being human. They haunt us, we cherish them, and in our lives we collect more of them with each new experience. Without memory, you would not be able to maintain a relationship, drive your car, talk to your children, read a poem, watch television, or do much of anything at all. Memory: A Very Short Introduction explores the fascinating intricacies of human memory. Is it one thing or many? Why does it seem to work well sometimes and not others? What happens when it “goes wrong”? Can it be improved or manipulated through techniques such as mnemonic rhymes or “brain implants”? How does memory change as we age? And what about so-called recovered memories–can they be relied upon as a record of what actually happened in our personal past? This book brings together our most recent knowledge to address (in a scientifically rigorous but highly accessible way) these and many other important questions about how memory works, and why we can’t live without it.
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Memory: A Philosophical Study – Sven Bernecker
Category: Comprehensive Introduction | Length: 286 pages | Published: 2012
Publisher description: Sven Bernecker presents an analysis of the concept of propositional (or factual) memory, and examines a number of metaphysical and epistemological issues crucial to the understanding of memory.
Bernecker argues that memory, unlike knowledge, implies neither belief nor justification. There are instances where memory, though hitting the mark of truth, succeeds in an epistemically defective way. This book shows that, contrary to received wisdom in epistemology, memory not only preserves epistemic features generated by other epistemic sources but also functions as a source of justification and knowledge.
According to the causal theory of memory argued for in this book, the dependence of memory states on past representations supports counterfactuals of the form: if the subject hadn’t represented a given proposition in the past he wouldn’t represent it in the present. The book argues for a version of content externalism whereupon the individuation of memory contents depends on relations the subject bears to his past physical or social environment. Moreover, Bernecker shows that memory doesn’t require identity, but only similarity, of past and present attitudes and contents. The notion of content similarity is explicated in terms of the entailment relation.
Theories of Memory: A Reader – Rossington & Whitehead
Category: Anthology | Length: 328 pages | Published: 2007
Publisher description: Theories of Memory provides a comprehensive introduction to the rapidly expanding field of memory studies. It is a resource through which students will be able both to broaden their knowledge of contemporary theoretical perspectives and trace the development of ideas about memory from the classical period to the present.
The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Memory – Bernecker & Michaelian
Category: Handbook | Length: 612 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher description: Memory occupies a fundamental place in philosophy, playing a central role not only in the history of philosophy but also in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics. Yet the philosophy of memory has only recently emerged as an area of study and research in its own right.
The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Memory is an outstanding reference source on the key topics, problems, and debates in this exciting area, and is the first philosophical collection of its kind.
Theatetus – Plato
Category: Classic | Length: 208 pages
Publisher description: The Theaetetus is a seminal text in the philosophy of knowledge, and is acknowledged as one of Plato’s finest works. Cast as a conversation between Socrates and a clever but modest student, Theaetetus, it explores one of the key issues in philosophy: what is knowledge? Though no definite answer is reached, the discussion is penetrating and wide-ranging, covering the claims of perception to be knowledge, the theory that all is in motion, and the perennially tempting idea that knowledge and truth are relative to different individuals or states. The inquirers go on to explore the connection between knowledge and true judgement, and the famous threefold definition of knowledge as justified true belief. Packed with subtle arguments, the dialogue is also a work of literary genius, with an unforgettable portrait of Socrates as a midwife of wisdom.
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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding – John Locke
Category: Classic | Length: 816 pages
Publisher description: In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, first published in 1690, John Locke (1632-1704) provides a complete account of how we acquire everyday, mathematical, natural scientific, religious and ethical knowledge. Rejecting the theory that some knowledge is innate in us, Locke argues that it derives from sense perceptions and experience, as analysed and developed by reason. While defending these central claims with vigorous common sense, Locke offers many incidental – and highly influential – reflections on space and time, meaning, free will and personal identity. The result is a powerful, pioneering work, which, together with Descartes’s works, largely set the agenda for modern philosophy.
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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – David Hume
Category: Classic | Length: 151 pages
Publisher description: A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume’s response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, which anticipates discussions developed in the Enquiry.
In his concise Introduction, Eric Steinberg explores the conditions that led Hume to write the Enquiry and the work’s important relationship to Book I of Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
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The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Philosophy of Memory – University of Toronto
- Philosophy and Memory – Washing University in St. Louis
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Memory
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epistemology of Memory
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on the Philosophy of Mind
- The Best Books on Personal Identity
- The Best Books on Epistemology
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.