On Liberty Questions and Answers
by John Stuart Mill

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What is the "Harm Principle"?

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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

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