NO HARM; NO FOUL In Search of a Principled Defense Of Freedom John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873 On Liberty, 1859 Utilitarianism, 1861 Mills Harm Principle 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 opinions of others, to do so would be wise or even right Mill on the limitations of the HP In the first place, it must by no means be supposed, because damage, or probability of damage, to the interests of others can
alone justify the interference of society, that therefore it always does justify such interference. In many cases an individual, in pursuing a legitimate object, necessarily and therefore legitimately causes pain or loss to others, or intercepts a good which they had a reasonable hope of obtaining. Such oppositions of interest between individuals often arise from bad social institutions, but are unavoidable while those institutions last; and some would be unavoidable under any institutions . Mill On Harm Through Inaction A person may cause evil to others not only by his
actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury. The latter case it is true, requires a much more cautious exercise of compulsion than the former. To make someone answerable for doing evil is the rule; to make him answerable for not preventing evil is, comparatively speaking, the exception. A Crucial Objection The distinction here pointed out between the part of a persons life which concerns only himself and that which concerns others, many persons will refuse to admit. How (it may be asked) can any part of the conduct of a member of society be a matter of
indifference to the other members? No person is an entirely isolated being; it is impossible for a person to do anything seriously or permanently hurtful to himself without mischief reaching at least to his near connections, and often far beyond them Objection Cont. If he injures his property, he does harm to those who directly or indirectly derived support from it, and usually diminishes, by a greater or less amount, the general resources of the community. If he deteriorates his bodily or mental faculties, he not only brings evil upon all who depended upon him for a portion of their happiness, but disqualifies himself for rendering the
services which he owes to his fellow creatures generally, perhaps becomes a burden on their affection or benevolence; and if such conduct were very frequent hardly any offense that is committed would detract more from the general sum of good. Finally, if by his vices and follies a person does no direct harm to others, he is nevertheless (it may be said) injurious by his example, and ought to be compelled to control himself for the sake of those whom the sight or knowledge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead. Mills Response
I fully admit that the mischief which a person does to himself may seriously affect, both through their sympathies and their interests, those nearly connected with him and, in a minor degree, society at large. When, by conduct of this sort, a person is led to violate a distinct and assignable obligation to any other person or persons, the case is taken out of the self-regarding class and becomes amenable to moral disapprobation in the proper sense of the term. If, for example, a man, through intemperance or extravagance, becomes unable to pay his debts, or, having undertaken the moral responsibility of a family, becomes from the same cause incapable of supporting or educating them, he is deservedly reprobated and might be justly punished; but it is for the breach of duty to his family or creditors, not for the extravagance But with regard to the merely contingent or, as it may be called,
constructive injury which a person causes to society by conduct which neither violates any specific duty to the public, nor occasions perceptible hurt to any assignable individual except himself, the inconvenience is one which society can afford to bear, for the sake of the greater good of human freedom. Continued: If there be among those whom it is attempted to coerce into prudence or temperance any of the material of which vigorous and independent characters are made, they will infallibly rebel against the yoke. No such
person will ever feel that others have a right to control him in his concerns, such as they have to prevent him from injuring them in theirs; and it easily comes to be considered a mark of spirit and courage to fly in the face of such usurped authority and do with ostentation the exact opposition of what it enjoins. And one more warning: But the strongest of all the arguments against the interference of the public with purely personal conduct is that when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly and in the wrong place.
Mills Utilitarianism The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals utility or the greatest happiness principle holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.
pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for pleasure inherent in themselves or as a means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain. A revised introduction to on Liberty Hi. Im Mill. Im a utilitarian. There are a lot of
controversies concerning freedom. I bet youd like a nice simple principle that will make it easy for you to decide when to support freedom. Well, you are not going to get one. Its a messy business. But when you are trying to decide what laws to pass make sure the decisions you make maximize utility. And work hard in making the decision because it will be really complicated. Thanks for your attention. On Libertys Commitment to Utilitarianism It is proper to state that I forego any
advantage which could be derived to my argument from the idea of abstract right as a thing independent of utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. The Harm Principle as a Rule of Thumb (HP revised) When people are acting (or failing to act) in ways that only very
indirectly and tenuously increase the probability of harm to others one should be exceedingly cautious in interfering with their freedomthe more tenuous the connection is the more reluctant one ought to be to get involved.
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