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Anamnesis (Greek: αναμνησις = recollection, reminiscence) is a term used in medicine, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and religion.

Philosophy[edit | edit source]

In philosophy, Plato uses the term anamnesis in the epistemological theory that he develops in his dialogues Meno and Phaedo.

Meno[edit | edit source]

In Meno, Plato's character (and old teacher) Socrates is challenged by Meno with what has become known as the sophistic paradox, or the paradox of knowledge:

Meno: And how are you going to search for [the nature of virtue] when you don't know at all what it is, Socrates? Which of all the things you don't know will you set up as target for your search? And even if you actually come across it, how will you know that it is that thing which you don't know?[1]

In other words, if you don't know what the knowledge looks like, you won't recognise it when you see it, and if you do know what it looks like, then you don't need to look for it. Either way, then, there's no point trying to gain knowledge.

Socrates' response is to develop his theory of anamnesis. He suggests that the soul is immortal, being repeatedly incarnated; knowledge is actually in the soul from eternity (86b), but each time the soul is incarnated its knowledge is forgotten in the shock of birth. What we think of as learning, then is actually the bringing back of what we'd forgotten. (Once it has been brought back it is true belief, to be turned into genuine knowledge by understanding.) And thus Socrates (and Plato) sees himself, not as a teacher, but as a midwife, aiding with the birth of knowledge that was already there in the student.

The theory is illustrated by Socrates asking a slave boy questions about geometry. At first the boy gives the wrong answer; when this is pointed out to him, he is puzzled, but by asking questions Socrates is able to help him to reach the true answer. This is intended to show that, as the boy wasn't told the answer, he could only have reached the truth by recollecting what he had already known but forgotten.

Phaedo[edit | edit source]

In Phaedo, Plato develops his theory of anamnesis, in part by combining it with his theory of Forms. First, he tells us more about how anamnesis can be achieved; whereas in Meno we're given nothing but the method of questioning with which Socrates proceeds, in Phaedo Plato presents us with a way of living our lives so that we can overcome the misleading nature of the body through katharsis (Greek: καθαρσις; “cleansing” (from guilt or defilement), “purification”). The body and its senses are the source of error; knowledge can only be regained through the use of our reason, contemplating things with the soul (see 66 b–d).

Secondly, he makes clear that genuine knowledge, as opposed to mere true belief, is distinguished by its content. One can only know eternal truths, for they are the only truths that can have been in the soul from eternity. Though it can be very useful to have a true belief about, say, the best way to get from London to Oxford, such a belief can't count as knowledge; how could our souls have known for all eternity a fact about places that have existed for less than 2,000 years?

Modern definition[edit | edit source]

In most dictionaries, "Anamnesis" is defined as a recalling to mind or reminiscence, though in older editions, it may also be mentioned as a recalling of the spirit.

"a recalling to mind, or reminiscence. Anamnesis is often used as a narrative technique in fiction and poetry as well as in memoirs and autobiographies."

"Main Entry: an·am·ne·sis

Pronunciation: "a-"nam-'nE-s&s

Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural an·am·ne·ses /-"sEz/

Etymology: New Latin, from Greek anamnEsis, from anamimnEskesthai to remember, from ana- + mimnEskesthai to remember -- more at MIND

1 : a recalling to mind : REMINISCENCE

2 : a preliminary case history of a medical or psychiatric patient"

Religion[edit | edit source]

"Anamnesis" is used in some churches in reference to the Eucharist. This has its origin in Jesus' words at the Last Supper, "Do this in memory of me" (Greek "Τουτο ποιειτε εις την εμην αναμνησιν",[2] and can refer either to the memorial character of the Eucharist itself[3] or to the part of the service where the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus are remembered.[4]

For example, in the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, the anamnesis begins with the words:

"Remembering, therefore, this command of the Saviour [i.e., to eat and drink in remembrance of him], and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming..." [5]

This phrase precedes the epiklesis, when the priest asks God to send the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

In some western Christian traditions, on the other hand, the anamnesis comes after the consecration of the bread and the wine.[6]

An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church says of the anamnesis: "This memorial prayer of remembrance recalls for the worshiping community past events in their tradition of faith that are formative for their identity and self-understanding" and makes particular mention of its place in "the various eucharistic prayers".[7]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Meno 80d
  2. Luke 22:19 [1], 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. [5]
  6. [6]
  7. [7]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Plato Phaedo, 1911: edited with introduction and notes by Hohn Burnet (Oxford: Clarendon Press)
  • Jane M. Day 1994 Plato's Meno in Focus (London: Routledge) — contains an introduction and full translation by Day, together with papers on Meno by various philosophers
  • Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum [edd], An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians (New York, Church Publishing Incorporated)

da:Anamnese de:Anamnesis fr:Anamnèse lb:Anamnes (Medezin) nl:Anamnese fi:Anamneesi zh:病历

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