We have an interest in what others believe of us, we also have an interest in what others forget. Forgetting not only plays an important role in our interpersonal lives, e.g., it is central to many accounts of forgiveness, but the right to be forgotten has also become enshrined in European law. Nevertheless, there has been little philosophical discussion of the importance of forgetting. As surprising as it is that we can make demands that others forget what they know about us, I argue that there are important moral goods a duty to forget preserves. Whereas we used to be able to rely on the fragility of human memory and the physical limitations of data storage systems, like ink and paper, so the shadows of our past wouldn’t necessarily constrain our futures; our identities are now distributed in information patterns online that can’t be changed. A world that is structured such that we cannot forget undermines our ability to guide the relationships that are important to us and constitute ourselves in ways that we intend. There is much work to be done to articulate the shape and requirements of this duty before we potentially lose it forever as the internet preserves more and more of our lives. This paper, I hope, is a first step towards that.
Rima Basu received her PhD from the University of Southern California in 2018, and is currently an assistant professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College. The central theme of her work is that when it comes to what we should believe, morality is not voiceless. What we owe each other is not just a matter of what we do or what we say, but also what we believe.