The Harm Principle of John Stuart Mill

Topics: John Stuart Mill, Drug addiction, Liberty Pages: 5 (2011 words) Published: April 23, 2012
The Harm Principle of John Stuart Mill

For John Stuart Mill, he was a strong believer in utilitarianism. As he says in his essay, “...Liberty consists in doing what one desires.” (393). He believed that whatever may make somebody happy is what they should be allowed to do, as long as it did not infringe on anybody else's rights in the process of practicing. This is the harm principle. Mill came up with a principle that states that a person should be lawfully allowed to do literally anything that they see fit, as long as it does not affect anybody else negatively. Therefore, Mill argues against law paternalism, trying to protect individual rights to make that individual happywithout the government's interference.

The main topic of Mill's argument is the Harm Principle. This states that a person can partake in any activity that they desire as long as it does not harm anybody else. The activity could be horribly immoral, or life-threatening to the partaker, but if they think that it will make them happy, then so be it, so long as it does not affect any innocent, unwilling others. Examples could include driving without a seatbelt because it makes the driver or passenger more comfortable to not be constrained, to participate in recreational drug activities because it is fun and makes that person feel good, or to marry the same sex, because that person would like to be able to commit themself to the one they love, and knowing that they have that title of marriage makes them happy. The Harm Principle basically just says to do whatever a person may find desirable, without the government's interference, just do not violate anyone else's liberties in the process.

Mill argues two main points in his essay, regarding the harm principle. The first point is that everybody should have the freedom to live life the way they want. This freedom enhances that person's ability to make good decisions on their own, and in turn have a good life. Allowing people to learn from their mistakes makes it possible for them to logically think through similar situations, and make the correct decision the next time, instead of just following orders of what other people find morally correct. The second part of Mill's argument is that everybody knows their own situation of life and happiness better than the government, or anyone else. For instance, Joe Smith down the street could be very against the wearing of clothes. He may be an active nudist that thinks wearing clothing at all is stifling his beauty and individuality, but since there is a law against public nudity, he has to wear clothes whenever he leaves his home. He knows that being nude is what makes him the happiest, but the government stifles his happiness. On the other hand, he could also be infringing on other peoples' rights. Parents may see nudity unfit for their children to see out in public, or others just may not want to see him in that state. Religiously, some religions forbid the sight of another nude body who is not a part of that person's family, and those religious people would be forced to violate the rules of their institution. In conclusion, yes, Joe Smith knows that being nude is what makes him happiest, but his public nudity could also be violating the rights of others.

The law paternalism that takes place in this government is exactly the opposite of what Mill would like to see in this world. It is basically the government deciding what is best for its citizens by creating laws that only protect the individual from harming themself. This directly contradicts the second tier of Mill's argument that a man knows best about what makes him happy, much better than another person would know, or the government, so therefore the government should not be able to make laws based solely on protecting the individual based off of morality and good decision making.

Another one of the things that Mill talks about is Individualism. He explains it as a person who...
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