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Harm principle: Wikis


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The harm principle is articulated most clearly in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, though it is also articulated in John Locke's Second Treatise of Government and in the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt, to whom Mill is obliged and discusses at length. Mill concludes that government should not forcibly prevent people from engaging in victimless crimes such as personal drug usage.

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.

John Stuart Mill, [1]

Offence principle

The Offence principle relates to the Harm principle, in that both postulate a moral or legal ground for enshrining an actor's behavior. Whereas the Harm principle refers to the interests of "the other" (the victim), affected by the actor's conduct, the Offence principle refers to the moral standings/feelings of society. Do we want to prevent people taking drugs to protect them (against themselves), preventing their disruptive effect towards society or to prevent hurting the moral feeling of others? The distinction between the Harm principle and the Offence principle becomes more clear and relevant if applied to animal ethics. Do we not allow certain behaviour towards animals because it hurts some people's feelings, or because it hurts the animals involved?


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