The Harm Principle in the 21st Century

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The Harm Principle in the 21st Century

I intend to reassess the main criticisms levelled against John Stuart Mill's, Harm Principle. I will argue that his Principle has, with the benefit of hindsight, had a positive rather than negative influence upon society and given a framework within which citizens can be free to accept or reject options. I will show that, On Liberty is as significant today as when it was first published.

Mill's Harm Principle says that, other things being equal, we should be free from interference either by the state or an individual. We've come to assume that a principle of freedom or liberty (both words are interchangeable here) is fundamental to our well being, so much so that, especially in The States, we hear Freedom spoken of as a 'basic human right' but the idea of a 'basic human right' is for the most part meaningless because, after some consideration, it soon becomes evident that there's no such thing as a 'basic human right'. In his Autobiography of 1873, John Stuart Mill described On Liberty as 'a kind of philosophic textbook of a single truth' (Mill (1989 edn), p.189) and rather than speak in terms of rights, some may claim a 'right' not to be harmed, Mill said only Harm (or the threat of Harm) is a sufficient justification for exercising power over another. Mill further qualified his Principle by adding that it wouldn't be a sufficient condition to exercise power over someone simply for their own good and he does permit some exemptions to the Harm Principle.

So he allows coercion in an economic context, like when a more efficient and presumably more profitable company Harms a competitor by seizing an increase in market share. Another exemptions are of the incompetent, the retarded, t...

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...ng for the activity and powers of individuals and bodies, it (The State) substitutes its own activity for theirs; when instead of informing, advising, and, upon occasion, denouncing, it makes them work in fetters, or bids them stand aside and does their work instead of them."

(Mill, J. S. On Liberty and Other Writings, (2000 edn), p.115.)

Works Cited:

Berlin, Isaiah (1969), Four Essays On Liberty Oxford University Press.

Dworkin, Ronald (ed.) (1977), The Philosophy of Law, Oxford University Press.

Feinberg, Joel Offence to Others.

Fitzjames Stephen, James (1967 edn) Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, R. J. White (ed) Cambridge University Press (first published 1873).

Mill, J. S. Stefan Collini (ed.), On Liberty and Other Writings, Cambridge University Press (2000 edn,)

Warburton. Nigel. Thinking from A to Z. Routledge (2000, 2nd edn).

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