John Mill Harm Principle and Utilitarianism


John Stuart Mill was a philosopher that lived in the early 1800’s. He was a British national and he was responsible for the writing of many articles, which helped people to understand as well as choose the good from the bad. One of the essays that John wrote was titled On Liberty, which was an essay that explained the control that the external society had on the prevention of an individual’s actions. In his work, John notes that one plain standard as it is entitled to preside over entirely the understanding of the society at a time an individual is in the way of compulsion and control. He tries to show that the only instance in which the community can exercise power over a member forcibly is in the instance that it is trying to prevent harm from coming to other members of society. This essay will analyze the works of John Mill and try to look at the arguments, which arise from it while looking at other works that deal with the same topic

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The Principle

In his work concerning the harm principle, Mill tries to show that even though, an individual may act in a manner that suggests that he or she is ready to destroy himself, or he/she may be acting in a manner that is not pleasing to another individual. Mill shows that there is nothing that the affected individual or society can do to change the behavior of the said person unless the person is causing harm or affecting others. Mill’s hypothesis does not affect every society, however, since there are circumstances, whereby the community is allowed to interfere with the activities of an individual even in the case that it does not cause any harm to others.

One factor, however, that remains constant is that the society cannot interfere until the individual comes of age. Once the person has become an adult they may do some actions that may require interventions so as to protect them from themselves. Another instance that mill’s proposal does not apply is in the unusual societies. This is the societies that can be described as barbaric. Therefore, for the hypothesis that Mill passed across it does not apply to the children as well as the societies that are unusual in nature.

Developing the Details

This means that for the unusual societies and the children of the society, Mill’s hypothesis have not been able to cover them as much as the people that are of age. Therefore, for the unusual communities and the children, the community cannot come in to remedy their actions or prevent them the only action that may be taken is talking to them. Once they have been talked to and they still disagree with reason than force is not to be applied to them to make them follow what society wants but instead they should be given space to ensure that they make the decisions they want.

According to the rights that exist for people, there is the right of freedom. This right is violated when the society gets involved in individuals business. Mill, however, in his work says that this right should be disregarded and states the Harms principle should be used to govern individuals. He goes ahead to support the fact that using the Harms principle will better for people than not using it. He is convinced that the Harms principle should be used to exercise power over the individuals in society and even though a conflict may arise he explains that there should be an appeal to utility that is to be grounded or founded on the interests of a human being as a progressing being in society.

Harm and Morality

On other terms, Mill states that Harms principle is to deem as necessary to deal with an individual’s actions. He goes ahead to try and support this by saying that an action should cause harm to an individual before it can be prohibited. He is also convinced that the fact the action may lead to harm is not a good enough reason for there to be prohibitions for the actions. This is among the areas that the factor of appeal to utility comes in.

Mill explains that not only should the society declare a harmful action as outlawed or immoral, but it should also look at the instances when harmful behavior may be allowed. This is instances like in because whereby there may be a certain deal which may lead someone to lose money. This is clearly an action that causes harm to the other in the form of loss of funds. However, it cannot be condemned since it has indeed caused harm, but it is under the right circumstances. If the action was causing loss of funds through fraud then the action can be condemned and even be declared as an outlawed action. This is because the loss of funds has not been caused under the right circumstance, and therefore, the deed needs to be condemned.

Mill’s thought of this scenario in the sense that the cause of loss through business caused the societies welfare to improve in the process however the cause of loss of funds through fraud does not better the interests of society. From this scenario, it is clear that Mills meant to pass on the point that the society should interfere with the actions of an individual if they cause harm and this interference should be viewed in the general interests of the society.

The Harms principle applies also to the inactions as well as the omissions. This is all associated with the actions that bring about harm to other members of society. This simply means that the society should exercise the power of making individuals perform actions that they if they were to fail to perform, would only lead to the harm of other people in the community. In the layman’s terms, it can be said that the community can compel individuals to aid others in some certain circumstances. An instance of this, is in the course of action of helping those in need, or in the process of rescuing the people that have been faced by a certain danger including even death. In the case where it is a matter of giving evidence in the court of law then not providing aid to these people may be viewed as unlawful behavior.

Mill tried to prove that the process of compelling individuals to perform certain activities would only be seen as lawful in the case that their inaction would actually cause harm to other members of the society. In other terms if the process of compelling a person will lead to better outcomes as opposed to not compelling them to do a certain action then it can be said that compelling them is the best action to take. However, if the process of compelling will lead to a bad outcome or due to the fact that people have the right to choose what they want to do freely than making people choose may not be viewed as the correct action to pursue.

In the principle of Harm, Mill goes on to argue that the guidelines that are used for morality are based on the utility principle. Here, people look at the actions, which are not generally acceptable is seen as unlawful or immoral. However, those that are generally acceptable are seen as moral and acceptable in society. This is not fare since in some instances there are actions that we allow, which in turn end up harming others. Examples of these actions are the actions that take place in business, which may end up leading to the loss of individuals’ money.

Therefore, from this scenario, it becomes clear that the description of what is acceptable and what is acceptable is founded on what is generally acceptable and what is commonly not acceptable. This is the area in which the factor of morality comes in handy since it allows us to choose what is deemed acceptable from what is not acceptable. What is clear from this scenario is the fact that if an action is harmful to others, but is not actually seen as unlawful then there should be no interference on the matter. This, therefore, goes on to demonstrate that the society must not only hamper with the actions that cause harm to other people, as it is also seen as immoral actions.

In the morality thinking, there are some deeds, which may be viewed as immoral actions and they may not cause harm to others. These form a foundation on a lot of the sexual morality rules. An example of these actions that recovered in the traditional sexual morality scope includes homosexuality and masturbation among much more. The factors of a person’s character, which end up causing harm to that person in terms of being self-centered, lacking in self-confidence and being rash are the moral factors that an individual may be punished. Even though these actions may not cause any harm to others Mill gives the notion that they are supposed to be condemned in public. In the individual terms, the deeds may be seen as being offensive but should not be given too much regard.

A question that one may ask is what does Mill mean when he says Harm? Even though, Mill in his work never explained the meaning of harm, in his works, it is possible to conclude that Harm is the rationale for which power may perhaps be rightfully exercised by the community over a person in an attempt to prevent harm. The community may use this power to govern the actions if an individual who may injure the interests of another person or the general interests of the society, which may be seen as rights because of the law that has been put in place. The community may use the opinion that has been given by the public to regulate the actions, which are considered as harmful to others without the violation of individual rights.

In a nutshell, if an individual’s act, affect the interests of others that are covered in the judiciary then the society is able to have a jurisdiction over it. This means that the term harming others can be taken to mean interfering with the interests of others. There are interests that are very crucial, which in turn need to be protected y the law as a set of rights. The principle of utility shows that the permanent interests of a man as a progressive being the only rights that should be given this much protection.

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Self-regarding Actions and Harm

Self-regarding proceedings and the harm caused to others may perhaps disagree with one another in certain instances. The self-regarding actions may only be interfered with in any way if and only if he agent is affected directly. They have an effect on other people, however, they may only achieve this through the agent himself. This is due to the fact that no one can be seen as an entirely isolated being. Therefore, in many instances what an individual does must have some effect on the people that are around them since it is impossible for people not be affected by what those around them are involved in.

Another way of viewing this is the fact that if someone is affected by a certain action he or she may be harmed physically or mentally, which may cause him or her to depend fully on others. The actions that they do may also harm others through the behaviors that they portray to the outside world and those close to them. In his essays, Mills is in support of the fact that harm oneself leads to harm of others around the person and he does not support the fact that all self-harming actions should be encouraged.

If one is causing harm to others by harming himself then it is very logical for the society to interfere with the individual’s actions. A good example is if one is an addicted gambler, and therefore, spends all of his money, therefore, making him unable of taking care of his family. The society is justified in condemning the person for being addicted to gambling. However, it should also condemn him for not being able to take care of his family. Therefore, the punishment should not be only for not being able to take care of the family, but it should also be for being unable to control the gambling. An individual’s personal duties may bring about a change from self-regarding actions to actions that are only regulated by the Harm principle. An example of such a scenario is the fact that if a surgeon got drunk while he was on duty he would be liable to punishment since he was intoxicated at the time that he was serving the public, therefore, making him incapable of performing his duty to the fullest.

If an individual’s actions of harming themselves cause emotional harm to his relatives and grief also, it is then clear that the society may confront them for not having their family’s interests at heart before committing the deed. However, according to Mill, the harm should be viewed as irrelevant and the society should reprimand the behavior of the individual even if it was harmful to others or not because he caused harm to himself. Mill shows that it is not bad for the society to interfere with actions that hurt the feelings of others. However, other people’s feelings come into consideration if we analyze what is morally correct and use it in relation to the actions that have been done. In the case of harming the family either emotionally or physically it is very different from harming the close friends of the individual. For family if they do not like the individual they cannot just abandon them. In the case of friends if they do not like the actions of the individual then they are free to leave the individual at any time.


If an action has no harmful consequence for the doer but has a consequence for other individuals in the society then the society has the responsibility of condemning the behavior. If the actions of an individual cause harm to those that are around him either directly or indirectly, then the society may be compelled to condemn the actions of the individual and consider them as outlawed behaviors. Therefore, Mill’s Harm principle simply states that the society does not have the mandate to interfere with the actions that only affect an individual performing them and nobody else.