Are there ethicists who defend the conclusion that "harm" be defined by the individual being harmed?

Philosophy Asked by Gonçalo Peres 龚燿禄 on December 4, 2020

From WP:

Some legal scholars… have argued that the traditional issues of free speech — that "the main threat to free speech" is the censorship of "suppressive states", and that "ill-informed or malevolent speech" can and should be overcome by "more and better speech" rather than censorship — assumes a scarcity of information. This scarcity prevailed during the 20th century, but with the arrival of the internet, information became plentiful, "but the attention of listeners" scarce. And in the words of Wu, this “cheap speech" made possible by the internet " … may be used to attack, harass, and silence [emphasis mine] as much as it is used to illuminate or debate.”

As freedom of speech is quite dependent on the definition of "harm" (as this answer also points out), and as the concept is quite complex, which philosophers defend the notion that what constitutes "harm" should be answered exclusively by the individual upon whom it is supposedly inflicted? If there are arguments in the historical or contemporaneous ethical or political philosophy literature, what are those arguments?

2 Answers

Harm is subjective, every person may have a different opinion.

It's not useful to defend a notion that a single individual should define an objective truth about something known to be subjective.

Instead the philosophic approach would be to talk about harm as seen by the claimant, ham as seen by the defendant, harm as seen by an expert, harm as seen by the law, etc.

Answered by tkruse on December 4, 2020

I do not believe that there are any "ethicists" who subscribe to this epistemology. But it is akin to what has become known as Identitarian Epistemology, which is based is based upon the following premises:

Being part of identity group X necessarily involves certain experiences which are unique to that group.

These experiences are a necessary condition for acquiring certain types of knowledge.


People not from identity group X cannot know certain things, which only identity group X can know.

Answered by gonzo on December 4, 2020

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