FORGETTING AND THE TASK OF SEEING: Ordinary Oblivion, Plato, and Ethics



The gaps, fissures, and lapses of attention in a life—what I call “ordinary oblivions”—are fertile fragilities that present a compelling source for ethics. Plato, not Aristotle, is the ancient philosopher specially poised to speak to this feature of human life. Drawing upon poet C. K. Williams's idea that forgetting is a “looking away” that makes possible “beginning again,” I present a Platonic approach to ethics as an alternative to Aristotelian or virtue ethics. Plato's Phaedrus is a key source text for this alternate picture; from it I suggest how we might construe Iris Murdoch's “task of seeing” in terms of the engagement with written form. Poetry is a central locale for such engagement, and thus suggests a kind of ethical praxis that arises from the theoretical emphases of my examination of forgetting, the unmoored self, remade other-regard, and sacred sources.