The Aristotelian Society

The Aristotelian Society

est. 1880

Symposium IV

Memory in Plato and Neoplatonism

Chaired by Panayiota Vassilopoulou (Liverpool)

Peter Adamson | 2019 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association |  Durham University

Memory from Plato to Damascius

Peter Adamson (Munich)


Taking its cue from a passage in which the late pagan Neoplatonist Damascius criticizes his predecessor Proclus, this paper explores the way that ancient philosophers understood the soul's access to its own tacit contents through the power of memory. Late ancient discussions of this issue respond to a range of passages in Plato and to Aristotle's "On Memory." After a survey of this material it is shown that for Damascius, but not Proclus, memory requires a distinction between the subject and object of remembering. This means that there can be no memory involved in self-thought, such as occurs in intellect, but only in soul. In conclusion the paper draws attention to a parallel discussion in Augustine who like Proclus thinks that self-thinking can be understood as a function of memory.


Peter Adamson is Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in Munich. His two monographs deal with the Arabic version of Plotinus, the so-called "Theology of Aristotle," and with al-Kindi. He has devoted articles to several figures of the Greek tradition: Aristotle, Plotinus, and Porphyry; and numerous philosophers of the Arabic tradition, including al-Kindi, Abu Bakr al-Razi, Yahya Ibn 'Adi, Miskawayh, Avicenna, and Averroes. He has also edited and co-edited numerous books, including "The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy," three further volumes on philosophy in the Islamic world for the Warburg Institute, several volumes for the Institute of Classical Studies including "Philosophical Themes in Galen," and "Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays" for Cambridge University Press. He is also the host of the History of Philosophy podcast.

George Boys-Stones | 2019 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | Durham University

Lost Memory and Contested Recollection.
A Response to Prof. Adamson.

George Boys-Stones (Durham)


A debate between Proclus and Damascius over whether intellect ‘remembers’ the forms in contemplating them is explained by Prof. Adamson as a disagreement over the nature of memory looking back to Plato and Aristotle. But I argue that it is rather symptomatic of a disagreement stretching back through Plotinus to Middle Platonism over the nature of the intellect. This gives the debate its urgency; and it coheres better with the fact that, Plato and Aristotle aside, there is vanishingly little evidence in ancient philosophy for a thematised interest in memory.


George Boys-Stones has been a member of the Classics Department at Durham for twenty years, and co-founded the Durham Centre of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy. From July, he takes up a new appointment as Professor of Classics and Philosophy at the University of Toronto. His published work has focussed on the schools of the Hellenistic period, and subsequent philosophical developments in the Roman Mediterranean. Books include Post-Hellenistic Philosophy (Oxford, 2001), Platonist Philosophy 80 BC to AD 250 (Oxford 2018), and the first complete edition of the Stoic Cornutus (SBL Press, 2018). He is Managing Editor of the Ancient Philosophy journal, Phronesis.

further info

future joint sessions

2020 joint session:

july 2020

2021 joint session:

july 2021

2022 joint session:

july 2022

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The 2018 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | Cardiff University

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6 - 8 july 2018

2017 joint session:

14 - 16 july 2017

2016 joint session:

8 - 10 july 2016

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