The harm principle holds that the actions of individuals should only
interfere with the freedom of others to prevent harm to other
John Stuart Mill
1 Definition 2 The offense principle 3 Broader definitions of harm 4 Modern examples
4.1 The harm principle in US libertarianism
5 See also 6 References 7 Bibliography 8 External links
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
While the phrase "harm principle" was not itself used until
1969, the harm principle itself was first fully
articulated by the English thinker
John Stuart Mill
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. — John Stuart Mill, 
Even if a self-regarding action results in harm to oneself, it is
still beyond the sphere of justifiable state coercion.
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. 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 even to the right of sedition. Modern examples The harm principle 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 . . .
Classical liberalism Law of equal liberty Libertarianism Non-aggression principle Rule utilitarianism Wiccan Rede
^ a b "Freedom of Speech". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 17
April 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
^ Ronald Hamowy, The encyclopaedia of libertarianism, Sage, 2008, p.
^ a b
John Stuart Mill
THE MORAL LIMITS OF THE CRIMINAL LAW. By Joel Feinberg. New York: Oxford University Press. VOLUME ONE: HARM TO OTHERS. 1984. VOLUME TWO: OFFENSE TO OTHERS. 1985. VOLUME THREE: HARM TO SELF. 1986. VOLUME FOUR: HARMLESS WRONGDOING. 1988.
Baselines, at Legal Theory Blog.
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