The harm principle attempts to explain the limits on coercion of individuals – either by the state or by social pressure/sanction. But many readers of Mill – even those who find the principle itself compelling – struggle with Mill’s application when it comes to actions. The devil is in the details; and the appropriate limits to gambling, potentially harmful substances, prostitution, and polygamy may seem difficult to understand even on Mill’s own terms. In the end, aren’t all hard cases left to be settled by the morals, convictions, and prevailing standards of the time and place? In other words, has Mill failed to give us a principle that can really help us with difficult questions when it comes to freedom of action?
Pick a difficult topic (say, guns, drugs, sexual morals, or any other that seems like a good “test” – but DO NOT pick the topic of speech, as we’ve covered that in the discussion board, and this paper is about actions), and argue whether Mill’s harm principle is a helpful or unhelpful lens with which to view what you see as the appropriate collective response to this issue. For example, are your own opinions on the right way to approach gun control/gun rights (or whatever topic you’ve chosen) helped by Mill’s harm principle? Or not? If so, why/how? If not, why not (and where has Mill gone wrong)?
Your paper should be typed, 3-4 pages long (double spaced, size 12 font, 1 inch margins), and uploaded to Canvas in Word or PDF format (all word processing programs allow you to save in one of these file types). Add page numbers, a title and your name. Be careful to edit for grammar, spelling and formulations.
Mill,On Liberty and Other Writings(Cambridge: 1989)