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PHIL 240 The Place of Liberty - Harm Principle

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PHIL 240
Adam Etinson

IV: The Place of Liberty How much power should the state have? Anarchist says: no justified power Thoreau Absolutist says: any power necessary Hobbes Mill says: enough to protect liberty Liberty Principle (Harm Principle): one may justifiably limit a person's freedom of action only if they threaten harm to another Condition: applicable to “any member of a civilized community”. This excludes children and “barbarians.” Argument: liberty is only valuable under certain conditions, otherwise liberty can do great harm. Freedom of Thought Unpopularity is no justification for silencing a particular point of view. 1) If the view was true or partly true, then the chance for truth or partial truth is lost 2) If the view was false, then we lose the opportunity to challenge/reaffirm the true view Difference between having certainty in a view and for the view to be certain. What about the objection that certain thoughts can be harmful to society? (Atheism, etc.) Mill's rebuttal: the usefulness of an opinion is itself an opinion -> infinite regress But accepting that, one would have no more reason to permit freedom of thought than one would have to ban it Mill: Generally better to have expression of ideas both true and false, for true beliefs, untested, become dead dogma. “We go to sleep at [the] post as soon as there is no enemy in the field” Yet, sometimes a contrary false view may win the upper hand (creationism in the United States, etc.) Harm to Others Freedom of expression is to be limited when it is almost certain to lead to harm to others. Problem: two classification of actions. 1) Self-regarding actions > involve only the agent, or others at their free consent 2) Other-regarding actions > involve/affect at least one person other than the agent(s) Mill's Liberty Principle claims that we can regulate other-regarding actions but not self-regarding actions. Criticism: the astute critic can make a case that any self-regarding action can become an other-regarding action. Mill: harm =/= like/dislike. Rather, harm is defined by Mill as “damage to interests.” Criticism: “interest” is very hard to define. Is it financial? Interest in personal safety and security? Mill: interest is not a sufficient condition to justify constraint
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