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Choice and Philosophy Kushay's Matter Bank

[AK] The Harm Principle

The harm principle basically states that your action can only be limited through state (law intervention) or society (moral coercion) by the time it harms others.

The harm principle basically states that your action can only be limited through state (law intervention) or society (moral coercion) by the time it harms others.

What is harm? An action (exercise of right) can be defined as harmful by the time it deprives other people of the right their entitled to, or, by the time it setbacks interests that benefit everyone. (Example: tax evasion is harmful because people need tax money to live, and quality of life is a basic right.)

Note that the ‘harm’ principle is different from the ‘offense’ principle. That is, by the time your action ‘hurts others feelings’. And most of the time it isn’t justified for the state to intervene in an ‘offense’ because feelings are subjective and is not universally acceptable.

These two principles are heavily debated in times when something is between a harm or an offense. (Example: when can free speech be limited? By the time it creates riots, terrorism, which is harmful. But not when some people feel that they’re degraded by that free speech.)

The harm principle is derived from three basic principles:

1) Utility principle, you must always choose an option that will benefit/make happy as many people as possible.

2) Most of the time, your actions affect others and not ONLY yourself.

3) An individual action which only affects himself is not accountable to the society, and the only justifiable thing that society can do to express their disagreement are advice, avoidance, etc. But, when an individual action affects the society than society has the right to control it from possibly inflicting harm to the society themselves.

Another layer of analysis might be the timeframe analysis. That is, an action can be limited even if it is not harmful right now but WILL be harmful in the long run. (Example: We obligate children to study, or otherwise they won’t have a good quality of life when they’re adults).

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