The Offense Principle
Mill's harm principle is distinct from the offense principle. The basis of comparison is that in some cases, psychological or social harm may be comparable to physical harm. The difference is based on the assumption that offense may cause harm, but does not necessarily cause harm. An offense meets the offense principle only if it is a wrong and also causes harm.
The ethical question as to what extent there should be constraints on free speech is often grounded in both the harm principle and the offense principle. If the exercise of free speech can be causally linked to violence or similar physical harm, it is constrained under the harm principle. Free speech actions such as burning a flag or holding controversial rallies usually fall under the offense principle instead, based on the corresponding question of what constitutes harm (or, alternately, weighing harm caused by limiting a freedom vs harm caused by the exercise of that freedom).
In the abstract, criminalizing all wrongs which cause harm will make the offense principle almost synonymous with the harm principle. However, the definition of what constitutes a wrong may change over time, such that harm may be caused by actions which were not considered wrongs at the time, and vice versa.
Read more about this topic: Harm Principle
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