General Question

shared3's avatar

What do you think about the harm principle?

Asked by shared3 (921points) June 30th, 2009

Do you believe in the unsupplemented harm principle? If not, what exceptions do you allow? Offense principle? Paternalism? Moralism? etc.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a link to wikipedia’s article:

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20 Answers

marinelife's avatar

No, it is too simplistic by far.

Besides, who is to say what is a victimless crime.

If you were ask the relative or friend of any chronic drug user whether that person’s drug use only harmed themselves, you would get a resounding no.

tinyfaery's avatar

Harm does not mean it’s a crime.

YARNLADY's avatar

To me this makes sense “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.” The controversy comes us when you try to interpret what “harm to others” means. As so many of the other questions on this site have shown, there is a vast gap in that area.

whitenoise's avatar

I think this principle is seductively simple, but that is its weak point as well.

Personally, I do not believe that non-interference is the best. Man is a social being and we participate in society in a far more complex way than merely harming or not harming anyone.

We all depend on eachother, so for instance it would strike normal to me not to just demand people not to harm, but to actually expect a positive contribution. Also man’s free will is not always the best guide line, as it may be misguided, mislead, or just mistaken. There are a million more reasons in my mind, but I’ll leave it at this

I feel the harm principle is just a well wrapped excuse for egocentrism and not having to care about others.

CMaz's avatar

“In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.”
Pretty much says it all. It is not that we want to harm others.
But, what is right for me, there will always be people that see it differently.
Eventually push comes to shove.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

I have never thought about it because I never heard of it.

Do I think that the government should attack people who are just living their lives.

I think to do so is both a crime of assault and if it becomes physical when people don’t obey then of battery.

If it costs the person being assault economic loss it is also a civil crime.

I guess it all depends on whether you want an organization in your society that is above the law and chooses to break it at will.

lloydbird's avatar

What do you mean by “unsupplemented”?

bea2345's avatar

John Stuart Mill lived in a less complicated world. Anything we do impacts upon others, and there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a victimless crime. When you smoke the illegal weed, you are participating in a world wide trade that has destroyed many; if you frequent whorehouses, you are effectively sleeping with the previous partners of the prostitutes (ask any epidemiologist); and on and on and on… That being said, I agree with Mr Mill (up to a point). If we legislate solely on the ground of harm reduction, then there is definitely a strong case for the legalisation of drugs, abortion and single sex unions (to name three). Interdiction in these matters has been more harmful than beneficial: wasn’t the law banning homosexuality in the UK at one time called the blackmailers’ charter?

lloydbird's avatar

But in answer to the question – It is the most powerful Key.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@bea2345 Homosexuality should be banned because it is more likely to spread disease. We should also ban mechanical transport because people get hurt. We also must ban voluntary child birth because people die from it. Lets not forget to ban eating because it can kill you and drinking water because you might die from an overdose.

You might dream that these things are not included in your banning categories but the next election could easily change that.

So go ahead and make your case for using force on your neighbor. I am certain that he will be able to make an equally valid case for using force on you.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@whitenoise If you are first not secure in yourself because other people keep interfering in your life and you have to keep making adjustments then you have to take care of those things first before you can get around to helping others.

I have been doing things other that I had planned since Saturday because I got just such orders from the government. I am still in limbo and will not be able to help anyone for at least the rest of the week. These are not abstract things where I live.

Such orders diminish what people do for others. They also make a person feel like doing nothing too.

lloydbird's avatar

@walterallenhaxton Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. Whereas, your ‘avatar’ only does so once a year.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@lloydbird All I have to do is put my hat on. The gold dollar is always good. Maybe you will like this one better.

bea2345's avatar

@walterallenhaxtonmake your case for using force on your neighbor. Perish the thought, I was not doing that. An idea that is slowly gaining force with me is that we can carry the harm principle much too far. We are also going overboard with the notion of harm reduction. There comes a stage, in this crowded planet, when we have to endure the infuriating and even dangerous, habits of our neighbours. Better one’s SO should smoke in the house, however bad it is for the other inhabitants, if it keeps him/her away from the bottle. This almost universal belief that the world must be made “safe” is unrealistic. My father was right. He used to say, “What don’t kill does fatten.” – meaning, one can survive, and even thrive, under most circumstances. Take drag racing, an increasingly popular sport in Trinidad. There is an association, which used an old aerodrome for the sport, until the lease ran out. Since then the enthusiasts have been lobbying government for a place, so far without success. Need I say that the youth of the country go drag racing at night on the nation’s highways? We have one of the highest road accident rates in the world. My government believes in preventing dangerous activities by prohibition (there was even a draft anti-smoking bill) so maybe I had better do my share of lobbying for the T&T Drag Racers’ Association.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@bea2345 I laugh at the kids spinning their wheals. If you can’t lay some rubber what is the point. The cars they are using might make a 2 inch patch of rubber. Who can even see it? A 50 foot black stripe is more like it. If my foot slips on my car I can do what they do.
Why don’t they just organize and buy a place to race? There must be land for sale in your country. Of course if it is like here you probably have few property rights in it’s use.

whitenoise's avatar

@walterallenhaxton I truly try to understand your point, but unfortunately, I seem unfit.

In any case, I percieve the difference in your and my approach somewhat in the same way as I perceive a difference between two following interpretations:

1) When being confronted with an accident victim, in one country a doctor may choose to interfere and has to accept the risk of being sued when his interference doesn’t work out the right way.

2) When being confronted with an accident victim, in another country a doctor may choose not to interfere and has to accept the risk of being sued for not using his skills to at least try to save the victim.

I believe that not interfering in order to avoid harm is not always the best choice. In my mind intent and a commitment to help others when possible should be leading.

I am Dutch, so overall I am from a people that cling to their freedom fiercely. (In many respects I feel the Dutch put higher value to personal freedom than for instance the people in the US,) I do believe though that a government should serve its people and that sometimes means it will have to accept the risk of harm. On top, in real life, sometimes one has to choose between various harms and choose the lesser.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@whitenoise I think that Mill goes against his own principal by permitting the state to use force on others other than preventative force against force that is being applied against others. I do agree that harm to yourself should not be the states business. Being forced to aid people is slavery and should not be permitted. I aid people whenever I can but if they force me to volunteer they are going to get a very bad job.

”“The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.
The meaning of “harm”

* By “harm”, Mill means only direct harm. That is, harm I do to others by harming myself does not count, unless I thereby fail to fulfill some specific, concrete obligation.
* At the same time, Mill allows the state to compel members of society to aid others

YARNLADY's avatar

@walterallenhaxton Here in Northern California, we have a track for anyone who wants to pay the fee, but they would rather have the added element of danger on the city streets.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@YARNLADY Kids can be idiots. I have heard that their brains are not fully developed yet. I suppose that is worse for some.

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