John Stuart Mill’s Harm Princple
The theoretical and practical analysis of John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle
“The only freedom […] is that of pursuing our own [happiness], so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it” – John Stuart Mill. This utilitarian approach brought forth by John Stuart Mill, within his works On Liberty, identifies a correlation between freedom and happiness. He essentially states that achieving freedom is most effective when an individual is able to act in ways that promotes their happiness, in so forth that another individual’s freedom, is not negatively affected (Dyzenhaus, Moreau and Ripstein 2007). The “Harm Principle” developed by John Stuart Mill, is one, where he incorporates his view of freedom, into a theory of how society should function. Trying to eliminate the common societal problem of an oppressive government, this principle suggests that in order to achieve and maintain liberty within society, it is essential that individuals are able to act rationally, while being restricted from causing harm to others (Dyzenhaus, Moreau and Ripstein 2007). Incorporating this principle with the relationship between the state and its citizens, the state cannot interfere with the actions of its citizens unless the actions are harmful to others (Dyzenhaus, Moreau and Ripstein 2007). However, John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle consists of an underlying problem, which is the controversy of what constitutes harm. This controversy can be problematic when applying the principle to society. With this said, the harm principle in its theoretical approach entails that if an action does not cause harm to others, it is not subject to legal sanction or interference from the government or individuals within the society (Dyzenhaus, Moreau and Ripstein 2007). However, applying this principle in society can cause difficulties due to its vague nature and unclear identification of harm. To begin, John Stuart Mill, a utilitarian philosopher, strives to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, by addressing and developing solutions to problems within the social hierarchy present in many societies. Essentially, He is concerned with the lasting struggle between citizens searching for liberty and the state enforcing their power, and how to eliminate this struggle in order to achieve equal political liberty for all (Dyzenhaus, Moreau and Ripstein 2007). He views the government institution as an oppressive force, which holds a monopoly of power over society, resulting in the acquisition of a low level of freedom for its citizens (Dyzenhaus, Moreau and Ripstein 2007). Such monopoly of power is dangerous in practice, due to its corrupt and tyrannical nature, which can develop, acting as a more negative than positive form of maintaining control and liberty for all. Another concern of John Stuart Mill, is the unequal representation of minorities within the democratic government. He defines the democratic government as being a system, which produces a “tyranny of the majority” (Dyzenhaus, Moreau and Ripstein 2007). What this essentially means is that a democratic government that, in theory is supposed to be a representation of the full population, is rather a system of representation of the majority. As a result it is unfair and oppressive attitude toward to the minority groups. In light of this, it is evident that not only do governments produce a system that underrepresents the minorities, it also creates a system that oppresses minority groups, leaving them with significantly less political liberty. The underrepresentation of the minority, results in their inability to act freely and express their freedom. The concept of liberty (freedom), is “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life”, and holds great importance within the works of John Stuart Mill (Dyzenhaus, Moreau and Ripstein...
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