The Gerrards Cross Memorial Centre, East Common,
Gerrards Cross, Bucks, SL9 7AD
Sunday 28th July, 10:30 AM to 16:30 PM
Our eighth annual away day is on Sunday 28th July and the topic is 'Is
Self-Harm ever justified'. Four speakers will tackle some of the philosophical
issues underlining self-harm and justification. There will be ample time for
This promises to be an interesting day.
To reserve your place, please complete the on-line booking form. The cost for the day,
including refreshments and a light lunch, is £19 for members / £25
for non-members. The booking deadline is 19th July. Places are limited
so please book early to avoid disappointment.
10.40am Is 'Self-Harm' a metaphor? - Brendan Hurley
This talk explores the sense and meaning of self-harm and of
The notion of a sense of self as 'important' and 'must be preserved' will
be challenged. Instead it will be suggested that 'self' is an embodied
illusion with limited meaning, justification being a constructed value.
Drawing on Wittgenstein's Tractatus suggests 'self-harm' as a metaphor,
perhaps for a feeling of distress in a human brain that another mammal is
doing something I would not like to happen to me or that I would not do to
It will be argued that justification is a retrospective luxury. A
self-harming action does not need justification to be completed; the
justification seems necessary for others, rationalising what is repugnant,
seeking cause and agency to blame.
If so, then this explains why medical care does not resolve 'the problem':
it defers it.
Brendan worked in general and specialist medical practice for
30 years. Tiring of that he read history at Leeds University and graduated BA
(Hons) Local, Regional and General History (1995). He wrote a thesis for a PhD
in history at the Institute of Irish Studies, which was submitted in 2004.
Since 2007 he has read philosophy in a retired and leisurely
11.25am Refreshment break
11.45am Why a particular kind of self-harm is necessary for a good
life – Fauzia Rahman-Greasley
This talk develops Brendan's challenge to the orthodox view of 'self-harm'
opposed to 'self-preservation'.
Iris Murdoch's metaphysics and her critique of Wittgenstein's language
argument will be combined with examples from the theory and practice of
boating in order to identify and distinguish between different kinds of: (1)
self-harm; (2) knowledge; and (3) mental attitudes. It will be argued that
some kinds of self-harm can, and ought to, be prevented but that there is a
kind a self-harm that cannot, and ought not to, be prevented. The implications
will influence how we understand our self, others and the rationality of
Fauzia's interest in philosophy began when working as a medical
doctor and wondering why some patients respond better to treatment than
others. This puzzle led her to reflect on the concept and meaning of 'health'
and to write her MA dissertation (2010) on Iris Murdoch's concept of Good.
Fauzia is the editor of The Philosophical Society Review and course director
of the Gerrards Cross Philosophy group.
1.45pm Egoism, Altruism and Self-Harm – Peter
The talk will approach the philosophically interesting phenomenon of
self-harm from a neutral viewpoint, by charting a range of examples and
borderline cases. The main aim is to identify what is at stake in the problem,
and to connect it with familiar issues in the philosophies of ethics, politics
and action. It is hoped that this analytic approach will distinguish several
separate basic dilemmas which are involved. It may even be that some opinions
about appropriate conclusions will emerge towards the end of the analysis. In
particular, we may arrive at a clearer understanding of the crucial boundary
between egoism and altruism.
Peter Gibson was formerly a teacher of philosophy at the
Royal Grammar School High Wycombe. He now has a PhD from Birkbeck, is
Secretary of The Philosophical Society at the OUDCE, and is the author of A
Degree in a Book: Philosophy. When he is not listening to music he compiles
philosophical quotations for his website, mostly in the analytic
2.30pm Political self-harm – Alan Xuereb
"But there was no unity. There was no vision. The nations
were pulled down one by one while the others gaped and chattered. One by one,
each in his turn, they let themselves be caught. One after another they were
felled by brutal violence or poisoned from within by subtle intrigue." Winston
Churchill, June 16, 1941
If suicide – (perhaps the highest form of self-harm) – goes
against the basic human value of life, then correspondingly "unreasonableness"
goes against the basic human and irreducible value of "practical
reasonableness", as developed by the Oxford scholar John Finnis.
According to this view, practical reasonableness is the type of reasoning
that we use to make decisions about how to act and how to order our lives.
Also according to this view the other basic values are pursued with the help
of this "reasonableness". There are nine requirements of practical
reasonableness that will be briefly tackled during the talk.
It will be argued that activities like wars, terrorism, racism, separatism,
may well appear as benefitting one individual group (say, a nation) over
another and thus appear reasonably practical; however, in the short, medium
and long term all these activities have serious intrinsic consequences on the
perpetrator and obviously on the target, making the whole national and
international community unstable. It is in other words, a self-harm
Alan will mainly tackle two of these requirements, namely: the seventh
requirement which states that one should never commit an act that directly
harms a basic value, even if it will indirectly benefit a different basic
value; and the eighth requirement which states that one should look after the
common good of the community. Alan will discuss why the aforementioned
activities are acts of self-harm, besides of general harm, and why they go
against practical reason, making them "practically unreasonable".
Alan holds a doctorate in Law awarded by the University of
Malta (1996) and an M.Phil. in Philosophy of Law (2004) by the same
university. He is currently working as a lawyer-linguist at the European Court
of Justice in Luxembourg. Though Alan's field is that of philosophy of law, he
has a constant fascination with political philosophy in general and the common
good in particular. and with philosophy of physics, particularly all issues
related to time. This is his third PhilSoc talk.
3.15pm Refreshment break
3.30pm Questions to panel, and discussion – Chaired by Dan
4.25pm Closing remarks Dan Remenyi
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". 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 or exploring jungles
without adequate preparation or protection.
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
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
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?