Varieties of Memory and Consciousness: Essays in Honour of Endel Tulving

By Henry L. Roediger III; Fergus I. M. Craik et al. | Go to book overview

15 Classification of Human Memory: Comments on the Third Section

Lars-Göran Nilsson University of Umeå, Sweden

Classification is crucial to any science, and the science of memory is no exception. Notable reasons for a classificatory enterprise in learning and memory have been pointed out and discussed by Tulving ( 1985a). The paper by Tulving does not yet seem to be known to a large research community; a brief review of some of the main issues might therefore be in order as a point of departure for the present discussion of the four chapters presented under the rubric of Classificatory Systems for Memory.

Tulving ( 1985a) has claimed two general functions of classification--one pragmatic and the other theoretical. Facilitation of communication is the cardinal aspect of the pragmatic function. The existence of a generally accepted classificatory system in a research field means an increased economy of concepts and therefore, an improved quality of communication in that field. Few would probably disagree with this implication, but there are probably also very few who would regard this to be the critical reason for deriving and suggesting a classificatory system for any field.

The theoretical function is more fundamental and it has many facets. One is that a valid classificatory system enhances comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. By means of an accepted classificatory system one is more likely to arrive at a general picture of the subject matter. In this sense, classification would allow a manifestation of general regularity of theory and data in the field. Other theoretical facets include the provision of guidelines for generalizations of empirical findings and for facilitating the determination of the fit between empirical findings and the sought-for generalized regularity. Still another facet is that a classificatory system may contribute to the establishment and improvement of the nomenclature of the field. The lack of terminological clarity is a problem

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