Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Harm Principle - Wikipedia

Well, the harm principle is quite populare and well-known among liberal-minded people (in the old libertarian sense of the term) .
As long as the actions of someone don't cause any harm to someone else, the government should not be allowed to interfere with this person's sovereignty over his/her own body and mind.

John_Stuart_Mill actually argued that people's freedom was justified primarily on utilitarian grounds. Leaving someone free to act as he/she wishes does benefit society as a whole (on the ground that this person knows better about his/her own welfare than anybody else who - obviously - doesn't understand his body and mind the way she/he does.) Liberty is not an end in itself. Only their own perception of hapiness/suffering matters.

Interestingly, the French article on the Harm principle is giving a different perspective on the issue.
Should someone be held liable for causing harm to a third person ONLY because he/she acted in a way that brought some harm? Should someone be also held liable for causing harm INDIRECTLY because he/she didn't act when in a position to RESCUE a third person from getting into troubles.
For most of us, the answer would be "yes" I guess. If we ever see someone drowning, we should not let that person if we can swim right away!
However, in some cases, there could be some contradictions with the first definition of the harm principle: In case we misunderstand the situation by interfering with someone's freedom when he doesn't need help. The result would be an embarrassing "mind your own business"
Even more complex are the cases where people are obviously harming themselves without be aware of the consequences of their actions. That's the case for young children (who needs to be supervised by adults) and some elder-aged people (who also need to be supervised by adults once it is clear that their mental skills are failing them).
Taken to the extreme, these new interpretations can lead effectively to a "benovolent" dictatorship. Let us imagine that a very small minority of "elites" keep control of other people's life on the ground that they are not educated enough to understand that they may "harm" themselves!
We are back to the first definition of the "harm" principle.


The harm principle is articulated in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. Mill argues that the sole purpose of law should be to stop people from harming others and that should people want to participate in victimless crimes, crimes with no complaining witness, such as gambling, engaging in prostitution, then they should not be encroached in doing so.

Mill defines the harm principle in Chapter One as follows:

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.

The harm principle is in part the basis for certain political stances of the United States Constitution and Libertarian Parties.

[edit] See also


At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think u're just quoting from wiki sources and not really understanding urself. should improve in the comprehension part...


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