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On the Improvement of Understanding, by Benedict de Spinoza, [1883], at


[81] (1) These are the points I promised to discuss in the first part of my treatise on method. (2) However, in order not to omit anything which can conduce to the knowledge of the understanding and its faculties, I will add a few words on the subject of memory and forgetfulness. (81:3) The point most worthy of attention is, that memory is

strengthened both with and without the aid of the understanding. (4) For the more intelligible a thing is, the more easily is it remembered, and the less intelligible it is, the more easily do we forget it. (5) For instance, a number of unconnected words is much more difficult to remember than the same number in the form of a narration.

[82] (1) The memory is also strengthened without the aid of the understanding by means of the power wherewith the imagination or the sense called common, is affected by some particular physical object. (2) I say particular, for the imagination is only affected by particular objects. (3) If we read, for instance, a single romantic comedy, we shall remember it very well, so long as we do not read many others of the same kind, for it will reign alone in the memory (4) If, however, we read several others of the same kind, we shall think of them altogether, and easily confuse one with another. (82:5) I say also, physical. (6) For the imagination is only affected by physical objects. (7) As, then, the memory is strengthened both with and without the aid of the understanding, we may conclude that it is different from the understanding, and that in the latter considered in itself there is neither memory nor forgetfulness.

[83] (1) What, then, is memory? (2) It is nothing else than the actual sensation of impressions on the brain, accompanied with the thought of a definite duration, [83d] of the sensation. (3) This is also shown by reminiscence. (4) For then we think of the sensation, but without the notion of continuous duration; thus the idea of that sensation is not the actual duration of the sensation or actual memory. (83:5) Whether ideas are or are not subject to corruption will be seen in philosophy. (6) If this seems too absurd to anyone, it will be sufficient for our purpose, if he reflect on the fact that a thing is more easily remembered in proportion to its singularity, as appears from the example of the comedy just cited. (83:7) Further, a thing is remembered more easily in proportion to its intelligibility; therefore we cannot help remember that which is extremely singular and sufficiently intelligible.

[84] (1) Thus, then, we have distinguished between a true idea and other perceptions, and shown that ideas fictitious, false, and the rest, originate in the imagination—that is, in certain sensations fortuitous (so to speak) and disconnected, arising not from the power of the mind, but from external causes, according as the body, sleeping or waking, receives various motions. (2) But one may take any view one likes of the imagination so long

as one acknowledges that it is different from the understanding, and that the soul is passive with regard to it. (3) The view taken is immaterial, if we know that the imagination is something indefinite, with regard to which the soul is passive, and that we can by some means or other free ourselves therefrom with the help of the understanding. (4) Let no one then be astonished that before proving the existence of body, and other necessary things, I speak of imagination of body, and of its composition. (5) The view taken is, I repeat, immaterial, so long as we know that imagination is something indefinite, &c.

[85] (1) As regards as a true idea, we have shown that it is simple or compounded of simple ideas; that it shows how and why something is or has been made; and that its subjective effects in the soul correspond to the actual reality of its object. (2) This conclusion is identical with the saying of the ancients, that true proceeds from cause to effect; though the ancients, so far as I know, never formed the conception put forward here that the soul acts according to fixed laws, and is as it were an immaterial automaton.

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