Seminar: Hypochondria – Do societies make us ill?

Tuesday January 17th, 2017, 6pm.

Maudsley Philosophy Group seminar.

Board Room, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, Denmark Hill campus.

Professor Fabian Freyenhagen, Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Essex Autonomy Project, University of Essex.

Abstract: Do societies make us ill? Are societies ill themselves? For many centuries philosophers and social theorists answered one or both of these questions in the affirmative – for example, Plato spoke of democracies as being “feverish”, Marx claimed that to labour under capitalist conditions “mortifies the flesh and ruins the mind”, and Durkheim suggested that we could see how ill a society was by how many of its members committed suicide (and in what way). Similarly, in political and everyday discourse, medical metaphors have been applied at the social level – such as, in the aftermath of the financial crash, claims about Greece’s being the ‘sick man of Europe’. Medical sociology has been on the rise in recent decades, and social scientists have increasingly investigated the consequences of policy decisions on the health of societies and individuals, including mental health. However, theorists in contemporary philosophy largely avoid any talk of social pathology. For them such claims are unjustifiable due to the plurality of worldviews typical of modern society and/or because they imply a problematic social ontology (i.e. problematic accounts of what kind of thing society is). I will suggest that we would do well to resurrect this notion.

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