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John Stuart Mills Harm Principle - Essay Example

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Similarly, in an early essay in 1973 entitled Moral Enforcement and the Harm Principle-an essay which would sketch the contours of his later four-volume treatise on The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law-Professor Joel Feinberg rehearsed Mill's harm principle and he, too, pared the principle down to its original, simple formulation
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John Stuart Mills Harm Principle
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John Stuart Mills Harm Principle

If we count mere hurt, offence, annoyance, and mental distress as harms, the principle will countenance political interference with nearly every activity, and liberty will amount to naught. On the other hand, if we count only physical damage to persons as harm, most every activity will be permitted and there will be little scope for the political protection of persons. (Kernohan, 1993, 2-5) Certain harms, however, had an interesting structure which straddles these extremes; sometimes activities which, individually, are merely annoying, innocuous, or even beneficial add up to doing physical damage or severe harm. Following Feinberg, R.V Brown call these "accumulative harms," and argue that, even on a stringent conception of harm. Mill's harm principle should be interpreted as requiring political interference to prevent them.
There is a related ambiguity in the interpretation of the harm principle. Should the principle offer protection against harms or only against harmful conduct Harmful conduct is activity done either maliciously or recklessly that causes harm to others. (Kernohan, 1993, 2-5) The harmful conduct interpretation fits most naturally with the background, individualist assumption of our legal system regarding the assignment of blame and responsibility to individuals. Harms must be assigned to individuals in order for legal mechanisms of guilt and liability to work1. Hence individual harmful conduct must be identified in order to use the harm principle. Harms, though, are setbacks to people's interests whether or not brought about by harmful conduct. All harmful conduct, by definition, results in harm, and, most often, harms result from harmful conduct. But these two notions come apart in the prevention of accumulative harms. An accumulative harm is a harm done by a group, not to a group. It is a harm to another person brought about by the actions of a group of people where the action of no single member of that group is sufficient, by itself, to cause the harm. Most often, an accumulative harm will also be a public harm, a harm which cannot be done to one individual without at the same time being done to a whole community or populace, but there is no conceptual necessity to this fact; accumulative harms may be serious individual harms. (Kernohan, 1993, 2-5) Feinberg describes the accumulative harm of air pollution like this:
Sometimes one individual source of pollution may cross the threshold into harm all by itself, but often many sources are needed. The accumulative harm cases, however, cannot be said to involve harmful conduct; no individual, maliciously or recklessly, causes the accumulative harm2.
Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them.
Public opinion, ostracism, harassing environments, and pornography are all accumulative harms. In this essay R.V Brown mostly focus on forms of pollution as examples of accumulative h ... Read More
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