Harm principle

Last updated

The harm principle holds that the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals. John Stuart Mill articulated this principle in On Liberty , where he argued 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." [1] An equivalent was earlier stated in France's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 as, "Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law."

An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; particularly of being a person separate from other people and possessing their own needs or goals, rights and responsibilities. The exact definition of an individual is important in the fields of biology, law, and philosophy.

Harm is a moral and legal concept.

John Stuart Mill British philosopher and political economist

John Stuart Mill, usually cited as J. S. Mill, was a British philosopher, political economist, and civil servant. One of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism, he contributed widely to social theory, political theory, and political economy. Dubbed "the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century", Mill's conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state and social control.

Contents

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. [2]

The harm principle was first fully articulated by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) in the first chapter of On Liberty (1859), [1] where he argued that:

<i>On Liberty</i> Book by John Stuart Mill

On Liberty is a philosophical work by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, originally intended as a short essay. The work, published in 1859, applies Mill's ethical system of utilitarianism to society and the state. Mill attempts to establish standards for the relationship between authority and liberty. He emphasizes the importance of individuality, which he conceived as a prerequisite to the higher pleasures—the summum bonum of utilitarianism. Furthermore, Mill criticizes the errors of past attempts to defend individuality where, for example, democratic ideals resulted in the "tyranny of the majority". Among the standards established in this work are Mill's three basic liberties of individuals, his three legitimate objections to government intervention, and his two maxims regarding the relationship of the individual to society.

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 a 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.

Liberty Ability of individuals to have agency

Broadly speaking, liberty is the ability to do as one pleases. In modern politics, liberty is the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views. In philosophy, liberty involves free will as contrasted with determinism. In theology, liberty is freedom from the effects of "sin, spiritual servitude, [or] worldly ties".

Will, generally, is the faculty of the mind that selects, at the moment of decision, a desire among the various desires present; it itself does not refer to any particular desire, but rather to the mechanism responsible for choosing from among one's desires. Within philosophy, will is important as one of the parts of the mind, along with reason and understanding. It is considered central to the field of ethics because of its role in enabling deliberate action.

Even if a self-regarding action results in harm to oneself, it is still beyond the sphere of justifiable state coercion.

Harm itself is not a non-moral concept. The infliction of harm upon another person is what makes an action wrong. [4]

Harm can also result from a failure to meet an obligation. Morality generates obligations. 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. [3] [4]

Broader definitions of harm

In the same essay, Mill further explains the principle as a function of two maxims:

The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself. Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other people, if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or disapprobation of his conduct. Secondly, that for such actions as are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable, and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishments, if society is of opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its protection. (LV2)

The second of these maxims has become known as the social authority principle. [5]

However, the second maxim also opens the question of broader definitions of harm, up to and including harm to the society. The concept of harm is not limited to harm to another individual but can be harm to individuals plurally, without specific definition of those individuals.

This is an important principle for the purpose of determining harm that only manifests gradually over time—such that the resulting harm can be anticipated, but does not yet exist at the time that the action causing harm was taken. It also applies to other issues—which range from the right of an entity to discharge broadly polluting waste on private property, to broad questions of licensing, and to the right of sedition.

Modern examples

In US libertarianism

The United States Libertarian Party includes a version of the harm principle as part of its official party platform. It states:

Criminal laws should be limited in their application to violations of the rights of others through force or fraud, or to deliberate actions that place others involuntarily at significant risk of harm. Therefore, we favor the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims . . . [6]

See also

Related Research Articles

Anarcho-capitalism is a political philosophy and modern school of anarchist thought that advocates the elimination of centralized state domination in favor of self-ownership, private property and free markets. Anarcho-capitalists hold that in the absence of statute, society tends to contractually self-regulate and civilize through the spontaneous and organic discipline of the free market.

Consequentialism class of ethical theories

Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

Political freedom is a central concept in history and political thought and one of the most important features of democratic societies. Political freedom was described as freedom from oppression or coercion, the absence of disabling conditions for an individual and the fulfillment of enabling conditions, or the absence of life conditions of compulsion, e.g. economic compulsion, in a society. Although political freedom is often interpreted negatively as the freedom from unreasonable external constraints on action, it can also refer to the positive exercise of rights, capacities and possibilities for action and the exercise of social or group rights. The concept can also include freedom from internal constraints on political action or speech. The concept of political freedom is closely connected with the concepts of civil liberties and human rights, which in democratic societies are usually afforded legal protection from the state.

The right of self-defense is the right for people to use reasonable force or defensive force, for the purpose of defending one's own life (self-defense) or the lives of others, including –in certain circumstances– the use of deadly force.

A land ethic is a philosophy or theoretical framework about how, ethically, humans should regard the land. The term was coined by Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) in his A Sand County Almanac (1949), a classic text of the environmental movement. There he argues that there is a critical need for a "new ethic," an "ethic dealing with human's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it".

Paternalism action limiting a person’s or group’s liberty or autonomy intended to promote their own good

Paternalism is action that limits a person's or group's liberty or autonomy and is intended to promote their own good. Paternalism can also imply that the behavior is against or regardless of the will of a person, or also that the behavior expresses an attitude of superiority. Paternalism, paternalistic and paternalist have all been used as a pejorative.

The tyranny of the majority is an inherent weakness of majority rule in which the majority of an electorate can and does place its own interests above, and at the expense of those in the minority. This results in oppression of minority groups comparable to that of a tyrant or despot, argued John Stuart Mill in his 1859 book On Liberty. American founding father Alexander Hamilton, writing to Thomas Jefferson from the Constitutional Convention, argued the same fears regarding the use of pure direct democracy by the majority to elect a demagogue who, rather than work for the benefit of all citizens, set out to either harm those in the minority or work only for those of the upper echelon or population centers. As articulated by Hamilton, one reason the Electoral College was created was so "that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications".

Joel Feinberg was an American political and legal philosopher. He is known for his work in the fields of ethics, action theory, philosophy of law, and political philosophy as well as individual rights and the authority of the state. Feinberg was one of the most influential figures in American jurisprudence of the last fifty years.

Self-ownership, also known as sovereignty of the individual or individual sovereignty, is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and be the exclusive controller of one's own body and life. Self-ownership is a central idea in several political philosophies that emphasize individualism, such as liberalism and anarchism.

Criticism of libertarianism includes ethical, economic, environmental and pragmatic concerns, albeit most of them are mainly related to right-libertarianism. For instance, it has been argued that laissez-faire capitalism does not necessarily produce the best or most efficient outcome, nor does its philosophy of individualism and policies of deregulation prevent the abuse of natural resources. Criticism of left-libertarianism is instead mainly related to anarchism and include allegations of utopianism, tacit authoritarianism and vandalism towards feats of civilization. Furthermore, criticism include left-libertarians' critiques of right-libertarianism and vice versa.

Criminalization

Criminalization or criminalisation, in criminology, is "the process by which behaviors and individuals are transformed into crime and criminals". Previously legal acts may be transformed into crimes by legislation or judicial decision. However, there is usually a formal presumption in the rules of statutory interpretation against the retrospective application of laws and only the use of express words by the legislature may rebut this presumption. The power of judges to make new law and retrospectively criminalise behaviour is also discouraged. In a less overt way, where laws have not been strictly enforced, the acts prohibited by those laws may also undergo de facto criminalization through more effective or committed legal enforcement.

The non-aggression principle (NAP), also called the non-aggression axiom, the anti-coercion, zero aggression principle, or non-initiation of force, is an ethical stance asserting that aggression is inherently wrong. In this context, aggression is defined as initiating or threatening any forceful interference with an individual or their property. In contrast to pacifism, it does not forbid forceful defense.

Negative and positive rights are rights that oblige either action or inaction. These obligations may be of either a legal or moral character. The notion of positive and negative rights may also be applied to liberty rights.

Natural-rights libertarianism, also known as deontological libertarianism, philosophical libertarianism, deontological liberalism, rights-theorist libertarianism, natural rights-based libertarianism, or libertarian moralism, refers to the view that all individuals possess certain natural or moral rights, mainly a right of individual sovereignty, and that therefore acts of initiation of force and fraud are rights-violations and that is sufficient reason to oppose those acts. This is one of the two ethical view points within right-libertarianism, the other being consequentialist libertarianism, which only takes into account the consequences of actions and rules when judging them, and holds that free markets and strong private property rights have good consequences. Deontological libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle, which states that no human being holds the right to initiate force or fraud against the person or property of another human being, under any circumstances. Deontological libertarians consider this principle to be the basis of all morality, and therefore they believe that any violation of the principle is immoral, no matter what other arguments may be invoked to justify that violation.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to libertarianism, a political philosophy that upholds liberty as its principal objective. As a result, libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association and the primacy of individual judgment.

Freedom of speech Right to communicate ones opinions and ideas

Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The term "freedom of expression" is sometimes used synonymously but includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.

Benjamin Tucker American journalist and anarchist

Benjamin Ricketson Tucker was an American 19th-century proponent of individualist anarchism which he called "unterrified Jeffersonianism" and editor and publisher of the American individualist anarchist periodical Liberty.

References

  1. 1 2 "Freedom of Speech". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  2. Hamowy, Ronald, ed. (2008). The Encyclopaedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. p. xxi. ISBN   978-1412965804.
  3. 1 2 Mill, John Stuart (1859). On Liberty. Oxford, England: Oxford University. pp. 21–22. Retrieved February 27, 2008.
  4. 1 2 Menezes Oliveira, Jorge (2012). "Harm and Offence in Mill's Conception of Liberty". Oxford, England: University of Oxford. p. 13.
  5. Rossi, Philip J. (2012). The Social Authority of Reason. Albany, New York: SUNY Press. p. 60. ISBN   978-0791483367.
  6. "2016 Platform". Libertarian National Committee. 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2017.

Bibliography