ANAMNESIS(Greek ’αναμεσις [anamnesis])—remembrance, the rediscover of previously possessed knowledge—a philosophical epistemological theory that interprets human knowledge exclusively as a process of remembrance, of making present to oneself that which is necessary (ideas).

In European philosophy there are three conceptions of anamnesis. Plato was the author of the first, mainly in his dialogues Meno (81b–d; 85 d–86 b), Phaedo (72c–76 d), and Phaedrus (249 c). The Platonic theory of anamnesis was influenced by Orphism and Pythagoreanism and presupposed a belief in the transmigration of souls and the theory of the pre-existence of the soul. According to the theory of anamnesis, man discovers in his memory knowledge acquired during previous incarnations of his soul. The immortal soul knows the truth about universal ideas and values whose objects cannot be material concrete beings. Sense perception of the visible world is only an occasion to recall knowledge the soul already possesses. This interpretation of human knowledge for the first time took up the problem of a priori knowledge, but explained it in a different way than Kantianism or neo-Kantianism. The Platonic theory of anamnesis was taken upon by neo-Platonists, including Plotinus and Porphyry, and Christian thinkers such as Bishop Nemesius of Edessa and Boethius.

St. Augustine had a different interpretation of anamnesis than did Plato. As a Christian, St. Augustine rejected the theory of the pre-existence of the soul (De lib. arbit., 3, 20, 57; Sol., 2, 19, 35; De Trin., 12, 15, 24; Epist., 7, 1–2). He thought that the object of anamnesis was not ideas known in the past but eternal truths independent of the conditions of space and time. Man knows these eternal truths by divine illumination which helps the natural abilities of his cognitive powers. In this interpretation, anamnesis is connected with the theory of illumination and moderate epistemological apriorism which prefers introspection with respect to knowledge of God and of the human soul.

Another form of anamnesis is the theory of nativism. Descartes and Leibniz held this theory. They thought that when God created man, he endowed man with knowledge of basic religious, philosophical, and moral truths.

G. Stanger, Die platonische Anamnesis, Rudolfswert 1885; F. J. Thonnard, Théorie de la réminiscence, in: Oeuvres de saint Augustin, P 1952, VI 475–474; F. Cayré, La contemplation augustinienne, P 1954; N. Gulley, Plato’s Theory of Knowledge, Lo 1962, 4–40; F. Casada, La teoria de la “memoria Die” en la tradicion escolastica augustiniana, La ciudad de Dios 177 (1964), 5–43, 201–233; J. Moreau, Le sens de platonisme, P 1965; M. F. Sciacca, Platone, I, M: 1967; W. Schmidt-Dengler, Die “aula memoriae” in den “Confessiones” des heiligen Augustin, Revue des études anciennes 14 (1968), 69–89; S. Kowalczyk, Człowiek i Bóg w nauce św. Augustyna [Man and God in the doctrine of St. Augustine], Wwa 1987, 167—187; Reale II 189–201; B. Dembiński, Teoria idei. Ewolucja myśli platońskiej [Theory of ideas. Evolution of Platonic thought], Ka 1997, 19992, 80–90.

Stansław Kowalczyk

<--Go back