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  • Editorial Note
  • Rebecca Kukla

This issue's lead article, Alison Reiheld's "Rightly or For Ill: The Ethics of Individual Memory," takes up a topic that is manifestly deserving of philosophical analysis, and routinely important in our private and public interactions, and yet as far as I know it has never before received systematic treatment: the ethics of memory. That is, Reiheld asks, when are we morally blameworthy or praiseworthy for remembering, forgetting, or encoding a memory in a specific way, and what are the ethical principles that should govern our practices of remembering and forgetting? As Reiheld points out, this set of questions only makes sense once we understand remembering and forgetting as constructive activities involving agency and choices. But scientifically, we have known for some time that memory is active in just this way; our memory is not just a passive storehouse, but something we build and manage. Philosophical ethics has been late to catch up with scientific fact here, even though in our everyday interactions we constantly and often unreflectively hold one another morally responsible for what we remember and forget: we get mad at our brother for forgetting our birthday; we are grateful when a friend forgets a time we were inconsiderate; we take it for granted that memorials are doing moral work and that this work can be assessed for how well or poorly it supports good remembering. Reiheld transforms these everyday emotions and responses, which are important ethical components of our social interactions, into rigorous philosophy. She asks questions such as, how exactly can people be harmed by culpable forgetting? If we are responsible for remembering something, does it make a moral difference if we offload the work to an external device that gives us a reminder? How do our moral responsibilities vary depending on how hard it is for us to remember things? And so forth. She also argues that the way we encode a memory (and not just whether we have it at all) can be morally charged; for instance, some memories are vengeful. She develops a defeasible set of ethical principles for managing and governing our activities of remembering and forgetting. Reiheld's paper reminds me of Strawson's [End Page ix] "Freedom and Resentment," in that it takes up a set of phenomena that is unmistakably important to our daily moral lives and psychologies, and gives a philosophical analysis so clear and concrete that it seems overdue.

Microaggressions are a pervasive topic of concern and discussion right now, although the philosophical literature on them is nascent. In "Microaggressions in Clinical Medicine," Lauren Freeman and Heather Stewart accomplish at least two philosophically and ethically important missions. First, they develop a new, "victim-centered" understanding and typology of microaggressions, which focuses on the kinds of harms that microaggressions inflict, as opposed to focusing on the kinds of actions they are, or on the conscious response of the victim, or on the motivations or intentions of the aggressor. They divide microaggressions into those inflicting epistemic harms, emotional harms, and harms to victims' existential sense of self and identity. Second, they bring the discussion about microaggressions into bioethics, thinking through the particular sorts of harms and risks that microaggressions impose in the morally charged environment of the medical clinic. This first mission is important for several reasons, not least because there are still many social critics who claim that microaggressions are morally unimportant because if people are tough they won't be bothered by them, or because it's not worth aggressors' time and bother to be concerned about them. By shifting the focus to types of harm, Freeman and Stewart foreclose these debates. The question is not whether people are harmed, but what sorts of harms are already occurring. An act that does no harm is not a microaggression, according to their account. It also takes all focus off of individual conscious intentions and responses, so that discussions about sensitivity become irrelevant. And it centers on victims, rather than privileging the stance of aggressors. The second mission is a crucial contribution to bioethics. As bioethicists all know, the context of the clinic is rife with power differentials and vulnerabilities, and it is one...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3249
Print ISSN
1054-6863
Pages
pp. ix-xi
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-30
Open Access
No
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