On Liberty Questions and Answers
by John Stuart Mill

On Liberty book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the "Harm Principle"?

Expert Answers info

Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write5,871 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The "harm principle" was a philosophical principle articulated by British liberal thinker John Stuart Mill in the nineteenth century. Mill's "On Liberty" is focused on the extent, limits, and restraints of liberty in a society. In this work, he stated his "harm principle" in this way:

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. 

In other words, a person's rights to liberty are unbridled so long as they do not violate the rights of others. The word "rights" is significant because to deny or traduce the rights of others is what Mill meant by "harm." He did not mean "harm" in the sense of affecting another person in a negative way. He meant something that, in a lasting and important way, infringes on the rights of another person. Additionally, he does not deny that there are some instances when harming another person might be within a person's rights. Accordingly, Mill argues that

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 509 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Deborah Sheldon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write934 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial