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October 21, 2019 / Congau

Immoral Self-Harm

It’s immoral to hurt yourself. Ethics is about what you do to people and you should be generous enough to include yourself among people.

One might think such a reminder wouldn’t be necessary since most humans are rather prone to give excessive attention to their own selfish interests. But though people are undoubtedly selfish, it doesn’t mean that they take good care of themselves. In our egocentric pursuits we constantly do things that are evidently unhealthy to body and mind.

Well, that’s all the worse for ourselves, you object, we don’t need the additional punishment of moral condemnation. We eat unhealthy food and get sick, but we don’t call an obese person a bad person. Right. I sure hope we don’t since we have no right to judge anyone, but we are still likely to criticize people who engage in certain kind of behavior even when they don’t hurt anyone but themselves. Excessive drinking and drug consumption are generally considered bad even when the addict himself is the only victim. This is just to say that we do include private personal conduct in our understanding of morality, for whenever we make judgments about general behavior, we are in the realm of ethics.

It may seem redundant to stress the moral aspect of caring for oneself, since for most of us that’s our goal anyway. Still, I think it’s useful to see the integral connection between what we do to others and how we treat ourselves. What is generally good for us is no different from what is good for others. We share the same humanity. If we include our subjective “I” in the objective humanity that we should refrain from injuring, we may be less likely to make unhealthy exception for ourselves. If you recognize something as bad for another person, it’s probably bad for you too.

Don’t do unto yourself what you wouldn’t have others do.

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