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Philsoc Away Day, Sunday 28nd July 2019

Is self-harm ever justified?

The Gerrards Cross Memorial Centre, East Common,
Gerrards Cross, Bucks, SL9 7AD
Sunday 28th July, 10:30 AM to 17:30 PM

Call for speakers

Members are invited to present their thinking on the topic of Is self-harm ever justified?. Presentations should be no longer than 30 minutes and followed by a 15 minute discussion of the matters raised.

The attendance fee for members is £16 and for non-Members £25. This fee includes teas and/or coffees but not lunch which may be purchased. Members who present will not be required to pay an attendance fee.

Prospective speakers are invited to send electronic copies of abstracts of no more than 300 words to [email protected]. Abstract need to be received by July 1, 2019.

Some background to the topic.

Writing in the Lancet Keren Skegg said, “The term self-harm is commonly used to describe a wide range of behaviours and intentions including attempted hanging, impulsive self-poisoning, and superficial cutting in response to intolerable tension. As with suicide, rates self-harm vary greatly between countries. Between 5 and 9% of adults in various Western countries report having self-harmed within the previous year”. This overview does not take into account the much wider range of self-harm practices which can be observed in society today. To begin with there is the taking of narcotic drugs and other toxic substances, volunteering for experimental medical interventions, engaging in ultra-high-risk activates such as climbing mountains (it is suggested that there is an unknown number of bodies buried by snow in the lower reaches of Mount Everest) or exploring jungles, without adequate preparation or protection. There is also the question of euthanasia which is continually presented on our television screens.

It seems to be believed that social media platforms have allowed bullying, especially of children, to result in child suicides and these organisations do not appear to be taking this matter with adequate seriousness.

And self-harm is not reserved to only individuals. On an organisational level, accepting too high a level of risk causing the enterprise to fail financially causing a considerable amount of harm to both staff and investors. Another particularly interesting form of self-harm has been occurring in universities where there has been what can in some instances be described as panic about the possibility that individuals might discuss, in a favourable light, some aspects of the struggle by certain elements in the Islamic world. This restriction of free speech on university campuses is due to the fear of how Muslims might be able to recruit extremists. Censorship is so blatantly opposed to the intrinsic ethos of a university that these attempts to control speech can only lead to considerable harm to the organisation.

On a national level, activities such as Brexit or the declaration of war (the United Kingdom declaration of war on Germany in 1914 resulted in nearly one million deaths or serious injuries to its own citizens and costing an incalculable expenditure of National treasure, not to mention the loss of an empire). The act of the Social Democrats joining a Parliamentary coalition with the Tory Party has been seen by many as being a classic example of an act of self-harm.

There are many other aspects to this question, “Is self-harm ever justified?” There are issues to do with self-harm in the short versus the long term. There is self-harm versus altruism. There is self-harm versus salvation or reward in the next life such as Bhuddist monks, petrol and matches and the phenomenon of the suicide bomber. Therefore, can self-harm be defined satisfactorily? How do we delimit the notion of the “self”? Does Trump’s import duties on goods from China, many of which are bought through Walmart by working class Americans constitute an act of self-harm? What sense can we make of the word justification in the context of this question? And last but not least, of course, is the question of who should decide whether an act of self-harm is justifiable?

Some suggested readings

  1. A Philosophical Analysis Into The Causes And Prevention Of Deliberate Self Harm
    http://society-for-philosophy-in-practice.org/journal/pdf/7-2%2030%20Jonge%20-%20Deliberate%20Self-Harm.pdf
  2. Self Harm: The Philosophical, Ethical & Policy Issues
    https://www.amazon.com/Self-Harm-Philosophical-Ethical-Policy-ebook/dp/B00E1LPVVM
  3. A History of Self-Harm in Britain: A Genealogy of Cutting and Overdosing.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK333535/
  4. Suicide
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/
  5. Multiple meanings of self harm: A critical review Margaret McAllister, School of Nursing, Griffith University, Nathan Campus, Kessels Road, Nathan, Qld, 4111, Australia.
  6. Cultural self-harm
    https://www.theartnewspaper.com/comment/can-the-cultural-self-harm-of-brexit-be-limited/
  7. Social harm future(s): exploring the potential of the social harm approach
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10611-007-9078-0
  8. The truth about self-harm
    https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/truth-about-self-harm
  9. Harmless
    http://www.harmless.org.uk/
  10. Organisational Control and the Self: Critiques and Normative
    Expectations
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-007-9564-4

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