John Stuart Mill's Harm Principle

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John Stuart Mill discusses the conception of liberty in many ways. I’d like to focus of his ideas of the harm principle and a touch a little on his thoughts about the freedom of action. The harm principle and freedom on action are just two subtopics of Mill’s extensive thoughts about the conception on liberty. Not only do I plan to discuss and explain each of these parts on the conception of liberty, but I also plan to discuss my thoughts and feelings. I have a few disagreements with Mill on the harm principle; they will be stated and explained. My thoughts and feelings on Mill vary but I’d like to share my negative opinion towards the principle and hope to put it in a different perspective.

The harm principle was published in Mill’s work Of Liberty in 1859. He states, “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 (978).” This means that government is not able to control peoples’ actions unless they are causing harm to other individuals. He also states that if you are causing harm to yourself the government shall not involve themselves. Different forms of harm are applicable, such as physical harm, property damage and emotional harm. Mill also explains that harm, in whatever form to others, can be the result of an action or the result of inaction. Both of these are a violation to the harm principle and the government has the right to step in; it does not matter whether harm was caused by the result of your action or inaction to the situation. The harm principle’s purpose is to be able to only let government interfere with human society when one is causi...

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... which fits into the discussion is the law of wearing a seatbelt. Not wearing a seatbelt while in a car is a good way of possibly causing harm to yourself. And according to the Harm Principle this should be allowed because you, as the person in the car, are deciding if you are going to put on your seatbelt. If the car were to crash it would have been your decision to not wear the seatbelt, so how can this be a government law? Putting or not putting on a seatbelt should be your decision because technically you are not causing harm to others, just possibly to yourself. If putting on a seatbelt is a law, why is a law against suicide not established, is it not basically the same theory. Allowing people to cause harm to themselves even if allowed by the Harm Principle does not only hurt the person doing the harm but also others around him, even if it is unintentionally.

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