The “harm principle”

The “harm principle” was set out by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty in 1859, the year before the American Civil War erupted. Though it is rarely explicitly evoked nowadays, it is embedded so deeply in Western thought, and especially our Declaration of Independence, that most of us take it for granted.

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That 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. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right… The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

In brief, absent a demonstration of harm to others, your activities are nobody’s business but your own.

Now, take a look at the news from Trinidad.

Buggery law deemed unconstitutional

The High Court today ruled that certain sections of the Sexual Offences Act are unconstitutional and null and void.

High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad ruled that the law goes against the basic rights of any citizen to enjoy the freedom of privacy and family life.


Prior to the ruling, TT nationals representing the LGBTQI community stood in face-off with members from the Christian and Muslim communities on the steps of the Hall of Justice this morning.

Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of Jamaat al Muslimeen, joined the Muslim group. He said, “Regardless of happens, our position remains the same. No one can legislate against the law of God. There are so many examples for those who are Christians and those of us who are Muslims of God’s displeasure for this kind of behaviour. If it did not exist in scripture it would have been a matter of opinion, but this is not a matter of opinion. This is a matter where the scripture says that this is an abomination. Are we going to call upon ourselves the displeasure of God?”

Hooray! for Trinidad’s courts for not being blustered and bullied by Bronze Age ignorance. The Pious have a right to believe whatever they like; they do not the right to expect everyone else to submit to their degrading superstitions.

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