You are at a party, in a room crowded with people, and someone who has just arrived asks you to pick out Simmias for him. You don’t think you know who Simmias is. So he shows you a picture of Simmias. Then you either:
(i) look around the room and, while keeping an eye on the picture, match the picture to someone in the room whom the picture resembles (albeit imperfectly so);
(ii) study the picture, put it aside, and, while keeping it in mind, search for and succeed in picking out Simmias;
(iii) look at the picture and realize that you had met that person before (“Oh, sure, I met that guy once—didn’t know his name was Simmias, though”), and then pick him out.
Only (iii) involves recollection. But note:
(a) it involves phenomenologically having an experience of something as a past experience by you;
(b) there needs to be a third thing besides the picture and Simmias, namely, your thought of having met the man called Simmias in the past; and,
(c) you couldn’t be making use of this past experience in this way, it seems, if Simmias were right before you, since then you would simply do (i), i.e. match the picture to the person.
The memory as intermediary becomes necessary, it seems, only when the person to be identified is not directly perceived.
These considerations, I think, lead to a difficulty in the doctrine of recollection in the Phaedo. There seems to be an inconsistency, in that dialogue, between two distinct notions of how we have access to the Forms. Let us call these: Forms as viewed versus Forms as recollected.
Forms as viewed is the notion which Socrates gives early in Phaedo, when he makes his ‘defense’. There he says that a true philosopher tries to free himself as much as possible from reliance upon the senses, because only then can he think about, view, and ‘touch’ absolute realities (65e-67b, passim). His language here suggests that we encounter the Forms through a kind of intellectual perception. We see them, but with the mind rather than with the senses.
But Forms as viewed cannot, it seems, be regarded as due objections of an operation of recollection. If we have access to Forms simply by seeing them, then sensible particulars, it seems, must play the role of simply picking them out (as in (i) above); the appeal to some additional process of recollection looks to be both unnecessary and impossible.
The point may be summarized with this argument:
- To recollect is to call to mind something that one is not perceiving directly.
- Thus, anything that one perceives directly is not an object of recollection.
- To think of a Form is to perceive it directly.
- Thus, no Form is an object of recollection.