What is the damage principle in utilitarianism
Sample text: Excerpt from a seminar paper on J.S. Mill
“Otherwise, the principle applies that“ the individual in the community is not responsible for his actions insofar as these only concern his own interests. ”This formulation, also known as the harm principle, sparked a broad debate about the practicability of his principle. Mill was widely criticized for attempting to base liberal principles on utilitarian principles, which many critics consider impossible. The accusation of eclecticism and, above all, incoherence is also often directed at him; a criticism that is also reflected in the controversy surrounding the principle of harm. 4.1 Criticism of the damage principle A thoroughly justified criticism of the damage principle aims at the difficulty of determining the dimensions of the damage. Although Mill said that insulting the taste of others and their sense of appropriate behavior was not included, he was undecided about hurting feelings. However, it is precisely this that must be viewed as emotional violence, because deliberate insulting and bullying as its acute form undoubtedly have the potential for psychological damage. Due to the fact that Mill does not explicitly address psychological damage, a gray area arises in his argumentation, so that the criticism of the applicability of his principle is justified in this case. Another point of criticism relates to the difficulty in determining the exact point in time of a damage to interests, because one can often only decide this when the action has already been concluded. A few examples can be given of this, including a provocative expression of opinion, of which one cannot know beforehand whether it offends others and thus violates a social norm or not. However, there are also many situations that speak against this argument, because in matters such as security, property protection and physical integrity, the respective security interests are established a priori. In addition, Nigel Warburton criticizes "[...] we are left with no clear guidelines for the application of the principle." Although certain cases can be found in which the interests of others are harmed, it is not possible to apply it to individual cases.
In practice, however, there is a case where the harm principle was applied in conjunction with Mill's defense of individual freedom. In Great Britain in 1963 a judge ruled in favor of the legality of homosexuality because it was a self-referential and therefore different non-harmful practice. In addition to all this criticism, however, there are also positions that assume the possibility of precisely determining the damage principle, so that fundamentally there is the possibility of drawing a line on harming others. But where exactly is this "line in the sand" that defines where the limit for social intervention in individual actions lies? How can you determine when the interests of others will be harmed and when not? And how can interests be specifically defined at all? 4.2 (K) a "line in the sand"? In order to pursue this question, a criticism of Mill should first be presented before the counter-argument gives an initial answer to the questions. One of the most famous and most eloquent contemporary critics, James Fitzjames Stephen, remarked on actions that only concern oneself that their existence is hardly possible: "In fact, by far the most important part of our conduct regards both ourselves and others." This argument is justified in relation to humans as a social being, because they can influence their fellow citizens simply through daily interactions. However, it ignores Mills' intention to construct a space in which the individual is not responsible to the community. In doing so, the non-responsibility before society as well as the fact that one with one's actions still affects one's fellow human beings must by no means be excluded. The basic possibility for this can be found in the argument of J.C. Rees, who says Mill's differentiation is not about whether an action has an effect on someone or not. Rather, Rees seeks to show “that there is an important difference between just 'affecting others' and 'effecting the interests of others' ant that there are passages in the essay which lend support to the view that Mill was thinking of interests and not merely 'effects'. ”This dictum can be empirically verified in everyday interactions. For example, the type of personal lifestyle, which is indicated, among other things, by the public habitus, has an effect on many fellow human beings, who can have interests such as happiness and prosperity that are completely different from the effects of the action of another on them, so that in the Consequence effects and interests can be viewed as separate concepts. Mill concretized the concept of interests in his work "Utilitarianism" from 1863. In summary, he says "the interest involved is that of security, to everyone’s feelings the most vital of all interests." The primary interest is thus explicitly defined as that of security. He also says: "The moral rules which forbid mankind to hurt one another [...] are more vital to human well-being than any maxims [...] which only point out the best mode of managing some department of human affairs." He deepens this argument with the statement “the most marked cases of injustice ... are acts of wrongful aggression, or wrongful exercise of power over some one; the next are those which consist in wrongfully withholding from him something which is his due […] ”, so that in the following the autonomy is also added. First of all, it should be noted that there are situations in which the interests of others are harmed by impairing their chances in life. This is the case, among other things, when candidates are defeated in a competition in which only the winner gets a promising position, such as a lucrative job. In such cases, Mill speaks out clearly against the application of the principle of harm because they are normatively legitimized by social consensus. It can therefore be concluded that the interests of others are only harmed if interests are impaired by an action that lies outside the normative social consensus.
Correlated to his utilitarian way of thinking, harm to others only legitimizes an intervention if it is in the general interest. An illuminating interpretation of the question of when exactly the action no longer corresponds to social agreement comes from Tobias Bevc. He claims: “Legitimate interests are those that are regulated by law. Only these must not be impaired by the actions of an individual. ”This statement is essentially supported by a decisive passage in Mills“ On Liberty ”. The liberal classic speaks here of interests "which one should regard as rights either expressly by legal order or by tacit agreement." The statement "should regard as rights" implicitly means that interests are not to be equated with rights. But they are closely related because, according to Rees, interests are based on social recognition. Social recognition in turn - this is where the implicit correlation lies - leads to the issuing of a right which then legally anchors the interests. If the legally regulated interests are violated, the legal sanctioning power may be asserted. In the case of the silent agreement, on the other hand, it is not a question of legally enshrined interests, but rather interests that have arisen from social norms and values. If such violations are violated, the guilty party "may be punished by public opinion, even if not by the law." With this specification, John Stuart Mill provides a sufficient criterion for the application of the principle of harm, because it is now evident how the interests are to be concretized and how they should be protected so that damage can be defined relatively precisely. Interests are those that are regulated by law or by social consensus. Legal sanctioning power is available for violating the former, and public opinion for the latter. In this context it must be mentioned that society only has the right to intervene for moral rules that are legitimized by the utility principle. In the contrary case, the framework would otherwise be so broad that almost every view of morally correct behavior would result in a sanctioning power through public opinion, which as a consequence would spread rather than contain the social tyranny of the majority so feared by Mill. Overall, despite the conceptual weakness with regard to the lack of a statement on psychological damage, it is possible to apply the damage principle to specific cases, since the criterion of merely self-referential actions and interests that can be constitutionally defined can be viewed as sufficiently precise. Certainly the principle is partly inconcrete, but it is probably the general characteristic of the state philosophy to be able to precisely analyze only framework and direction, but not all conceivable concrete situations. This can only provide individual interpretation, so that in the next section of the thesis an attempt will be made to determine the applicability of Mill's defense of individual freedom on the basis of modern case studies. (The sources and literature references to be made naturally have been omitted in favor of better readability)
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