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Contribution to Book
Ought We to Forget What We Cannot Forget? A Reply to Sybille Schmidt
Forgetting: An Interdisciplinary Conversation (2015)
  • Attila Tanyi, University of Liverpool

This is a short response to Sybille Schmidt's paper (in the same volume) "Is There an Ethics of Forgetting?". The response starts out by admitting that forgetting is an essential function of human existence, that it serves, as it were, an important evolutionary function: that it is good, since it contributes to our well-being, to have the ability to forget. But this does not give us as answer, affirmative or not, to Schmidt’s title question: “Is There an Ethics of Forgetting?” The main impediment to answering this question, certainly to answering it in the affirmative, seems to be a problem that Schmidt mentions but does not in the end tackle head on: the question whether we can willfully forget – or, for that matter, remember – our own or others' past deeds. For if we cannot forget even what we will to forget, then, by the so-called "ought implies can" principle, no obligations (or even permissions) arise for us to forget (or remember) anything. The rest of the response spells out four possible ways of tackling this problem, ultimately arguing that, given the advances in medicine, it might well become possible - and to some extent it is already possible - to forget what we will to forget.

  • forgetting,
  • remembering,
  • ethics of forgetting,
  • Nietzsche,
  • Arendt,
  • ought implies can
Publication Date
Giovanni Galizia & David Shulman
Magnes Press of the Hebrew University
Citation Information
Attila Tanyi. "Ought We to Forget What We Cannot Forget? A Reply to Sybille Schmidt" JerusalemForgetting: An Interdisciplinary Conversation (2015)
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