John Stuart Mill's Harm Principle

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Ripstein urges us to “abandon” John Stuart Mill’s harm principle in favour of the following alternative- the Sovereignty Principle, that is, “each person is entitled to use their own powers as he or she sees fit, consistent with the ability of others to do the same. The consistency is achieved through the joint ideas of non-interference and voluntary cooperation.” (Ripstein, p. 233). Just like Mill, Ripstein hopes to secure individual freedom and independence by limiting the reach of criminal law and of coercion more generally. This essay seeks to portray how both the harm principle and the sovereignty principle place limits on the kinds of activities that the criminal law may justifiably prohibit, and explore potential ways in which they fail…show more content…
The criminal law is only justified in creating legislation that upholds the Harm Principle: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (Mill, p. 68). In this case, actions can be regulated and controlled if they harm someone. The Harm Principle indicates that all citizens have an internal sphere of morality where the law cannot intervene. All citizens have the liberty of conscience, the liberty of thought and feeling, and of thought and sentiment. As per Mill’s Principle, these liberties must be absolute and unqualified for a society to be free- people should be free to practice individual ways of life and legislators, governments or any body that deliberates legal decisions, should not rely on morality, as per the fundamentals of legal morality i.e. Dworkins’ Natural Law Theory, but entirely and wholly on the Harm Principle. People should be free to hold and enact morality if it doesn’t harm someone in any way. Mill advocates that an individual is sovereign over his or her own body and mind, that is inclusive of physical harm to a person or his property, slanderous words withholding necessities and harm to emotion. To contrast directly with Ripsteins’ Sovereignty Principle, Mill insists distinctions must be made where certain individuals’ beliefs’ and…show more content…
To demonstrate this, he presents an imaginary example in which, without your knowledge and without causing any damage, he enters your bed and takes a nap (Ripstein, 218). Ripstein admits that his example is "artificial”, but far ahead relates it to two more realistic instances of (supposedly harmless) wrongdoing: those in which medical experiments are performed without trace or injury on persons while conscious (Ripstein, 227); and those involving “unauthorized touchings” (Ripstein, p. 235). Ripstein illustrates the Sovereignty Principle [as] “in which someone “trespasses” on another person by making inappropriate contact with them. I will call the alternative “the sovereignty principle.” The sovereignty principle articulates the basis for restrictions in terms of "ideas of individuality and independence. conception of freedom—which I will call “freedom as independence”— according to which a person is free if she, rather than anyone else, is one who gets to decide how to use her powers. Insofar as another person decides for her, she is dependent on that person, and her sovereignty is compromised. I will explain why violations of equal freedom, rather than harm, provide the legitimate basis for criminalization”. (Ripstein, p. 69- 70). Basically, what provides the sincere basis for criminalization, Ripstein argues, is not harm, but of sovereignty; and

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