The Harm Principle and its Limitations

How should a society decide which actions ought to be criminalized? Personally, I’m a proponent of the harm principle. John Stuart Mill articulated this principle in On Liberty, where he argued that the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals. Self-harm cannot be criminalized. “Crimes” without victims cannot exist. The fact that many people consider some action disgusting cannot be a sufficient reason for criminalizing it. So far so good. But how do we determine what constitutes harm for other people? And what about all those cases where there is only minor harm? At which point do we decide that the harm for other people is significant enough to warrant outlawing some action? [Read more…]