The Importance of Forgetting

Episteme (forthcoming)


Morality bears on what we should forget. Some aspects of our identity are meant to be forgotten and there is a distinctive harm that accompanies the permanence of some content about us, content that prompts a duty to forget. To make the case that forgetting is an integral part of our moral duties to others, the paper proceeds as follows. In §1, I make the case that forgetting is morally evaluable and I survey three kinds of forgetting: no-trace forgetting, archival forgetting, and siloing. In §2, I turn to how we practice these forms of forgetting in our everyday lives and the goods these practices facilitate by drawing on examples ranging from the expunging of juvenile arrest records to the right to privacy. In §3, I turn to how my account can help us both recognize and address a heretofore neglected source of harm caused by technology and big data. In §4, I end by addressing the concern that we lack control over forgetting and thus can't be required to forget. I argue this challenge can be answered, but there’s a harder challenge that can’t. Forgetting is under threat. To address this challenge and preserve forgetting, we must change the world.

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