Mill's Harm Principle

Topics: John Stuart Mill, Liberalism, On Liberty Pages: 4 (1362 words) Published: May 6, 2014
“The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the former justice of the American Supreme Court. This famous analogy articulates the scope of liberty suggested by John Stuart Mill and his ‘one very simple principle.’ As the very basis to support his arguments about liberty and its limit, the principle strenuously insists as follows. The only justification for exercising coercive force over an individual is when his actions would otherwise harm any other individual. This Harm Principle or so-called Mill’s Liberty Principle has been implemented to judge whether the state, in a particular situation, is rightfully authorized to interfere with the individual’s free choice and action. Even though its strengths have been pivotal in shaping the modern sphere of liberty, the principle holds clear limitations that should be further examined.

The social frame on which Mill constructed the Harm principle was his concerns about potential dangers of democracy. After the bourgeoisie Honor revolution that has firmly sustained the system of democracy in England, dominant public sentiment emerged as coercive power that prevailed and seized the civil liberty. As this tyranny of the majority surely causes injustice and oppression of the minority, Mill argues for the necessity to impose proper limit both on the individual freedom and the power of the state. Identifying such specific limit, the principle protects individuals to hold much sovereign over their own lives and choices while limiting the state to hold the minimal authority. According to Mill, the state may rightfully exercise power against an individual or his will only if they threaten harm to another. For example, the state can justifiably hold a psychopathic criminal captive to protect other citizens from his evil intentions. His lack of conscience or morality, however, cannot be a sufficient rationale to infringe the individual’s freedom even if the...
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