Harm Principle - Definition

Definition

The belief "that no one should be forcibly prevented from acting in any way he chooses provided his acts are not invasive of the free acts of others" has become one of the basic principles of libertarian politics. The harm principle was first fully articulated by the English thinker John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) in the first chapter of On Liberty (1859), where he argued that:

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right... The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

John Stuart Mill,

Mill sees harm and wrongdoing as synonymous. "Harmless wrongdoing" is a contradiction in terms. Even if a self-regarding action results in harm to oneself, it is still beyond morality.

However, harm itself is not a non-moral concept. The infliction of harm upon another person is what makes an action wrong.

Harm can also result from a failure to meet an obligation. Morality generates obligation. Duty may be exacted from a person in the same way as a debt, and it is part of the notion of duty that a person may be rightfully compelled to fulfill it.

Read more about this topic:  Harm Principle

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