Summary of Nietzsche On Memory


This post outlines the conclusions of the previous posts so it serves effectively as a Summary of Nietzsche On Memory.

Memory is of a higher importance for Nietzsche and the understanding of his work than we have previously recognised. Firstly, I made out this claim by arguing initially that for Nietzsche, memory is what makes us human. Secondly, I noted the importance and unusual nature of Nietzsche’s picture of forgetting.

Having established the significance of memory, it became clear that we need to understand what exactly Nietzsche means by the term. We saw that there were many uses and nuances. So it was valuable to separate out the various meanings into different types of memory.

Four Different Types Of Memory

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The first point to note in any Summary of Nietzsche On Memory is that he recognises four different types of memory.

The four types were as below.

Passive Memory has two subtypes: Inhibitory Memory and Imposed Memory. Imposed Memory is any externally imposed memory. Somewhat similarly, Inhibitory Memory is any memory which tends to suppress action.

Active Memory is any use of memory which is both selected by the rememberer and tends to promote activity.

Organic Memory is any use of memory in which any of the following markers are present. 1). It is physiologically based. Or 2). it is stored via experiences of events that did not take place during the lifetime of the rememberer. Or 3). it is available to life beyond humanity. For example, Venus flytraps have Organic Memory.

Collective Memory is any use of memory or its contents in which the results could not be re-described on the basis of a sum over individual memories.

Distinction Between Active And Passive Memory

The argument for the first distinction between Passive Memory and Active Memory was driven by the way that Nietzsche sees activity as a major source of value. We then added in his remarks to the effect that some memories were valuable and some were not. In particular, there was an identification in Nietzsche between passive and reactive memory and passive and reactive behaviour. Moreover, Nietzsche sees all of these as less valuable.

This led to the conclusion that some memories tended to promote activity and some tended to inhibit it, resulting in the two types. Passive Memory is connected to the phenomenon of ressentiment. Certainly, ressentiment is a complex theme of Nietzsche’s. Probably he sees it negatively, at least from the perspective of those experiencing it. But perhaps it has motive force historically.

Passive Memory

Passive Memory has two subtypes: Inhibitory and Imposed. While they need not be identical, they will overlap quite significantly in some. Especially, this will be true of the weak and those suffering from ressentiment. This is because those people have no control over some of what they remember. They will also have little freedom of action. This argument is based on the association in GM between the imposition of memories of public punishments and the inhibition of action in those who have such memories.

Active Memory

Importantly, I argued for Active Memory by contrasting it with Passive Memory on several axes. As mentioned, the first of these distinctions is the valuation Nietzsche ascribes to them. But we also saw distinctions in terms of power, bad conscience, the memory of the will. Also, there are distinctions between contest and competition, and effective self-creation.

Organic Memory

There is a third major type of memory for Nietzsche: Organic Memory. I claim that the first distinction between Passive Memory and Active Memory is true and useful to us today. However, Organic Memory is perhaps a less useful concept. Understanding what Nietzsche means by it remains an important pre-requisite for reading him though. It can cause us to mistake useful claims about our memory with claims about the wider concept of Organic Memory. As a result, we may undervalue Nietzsche’s psychological insights.

Moreover, we saw that Organic Memory was a new type. We know this since Nietzsche extended it to previous generations of humans. He also extended it to the non-human world of plants. This contrasts with Passive Memory and Active Memory types in humans. It is probably beyond what we would accept today as falling within the standard meaning of the term ‘memory.’ Indeed, it reflects some of Nietzsche’s interest in biological views which are no longer current.

Fresh Perspectives

I also argued that understanding this additional memory type could give us fresh perspectives. In particular, we threw light on the important themes of Dionysus vs Apollo and the Übermensch. Firstly, forgetting is part of the value of the drives. In the second case, the special memory abilities of the Übermensch connect to his ability to affirm the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence.

No Collective Memory

Finally, I eliminated a misunderstanding. Several authors have claimed or assumed that Nietzsche recognises a type of Collective Memory. I argued that when authors invoke Nietzsche to support existence claims for Collective memory, they make a mistake. Often this happens because they are confused by Nietzsche’s admittedly rather opaque references to the slightly strange Organic Memory type.

Summary of Nietzsche On Memory: Conclusions

In conclusion, understanding to which memory type Nietzsche is referring is valuable and important. It gives us better perspectives on what memory is and what Nietzsche means.

See Also:

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

Bibliography: see full version:

By Tim Short

I am a former investment banking and securitisation specialist, having spent nearly a decade on the trading floor of several international investment banks. Throughout my career, I worked closely with syndicate/traders in order to establish the types of paper which would trade well and gained significant and broad experience in financial markets.
Many people have trading experience similar to the above. What marks me out is what I did next. I decided to pursue my interest in philosophy at Doctoral level, specialising in the psychology of how we predict and explain the behaviour of others, and in particular, the errors or biases we are prone to in that process. I have used my experience to write The Psychology of Successful Trading. In this book, I combine the above experience and knowledge to show how biases can lead to inaccurate predictions of the behaviour of other market participants, and how remedying those biases can lead to better predictions and major profits. Learn more on the About Me page.

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