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November 12, 2005


Robert Jubb

Another problem for Mill - apart from the fleshing out harm thing, which he doesn't really get to properly - is that he can't actually be endorsing the harm principle as a guide for legislation, since it rules out a whole load of stuff. Cheating on your wife clearly damages her interest in not having a cheating husband, for example. Driving your competitors out of business by providing a better, cheaper service damages their interest in their continuing to have a flourishing and successful business. We would not want legal sanctions against either of these things, and probably not social sanctions that constituted much of a disincentive. So, I'm skeptical about the harm principle.

Norman Geras

Chris, I've posted a comment here...



Thanks for that reply, Norm. I used the word "material" rather carelessly. It does, I think, cover your good examples of real psychological harm. Genuine fear does impose a material loss upon people because it limits their options (and options are of course material things - financial options are worth billions of pounds); the old person terrorized by neighbours will be scared to go out, the person whose reputation is defamed will lose options for social contacts, and so on.
As for cases where there's a close link between hate speech,likely perpertrators and victims, Mill certainly thought there were cases where punishment was in order. He says:
"An opinion that corn dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn dealer."
My only concern is whether there are enough bright lines between these cases and "mere speech" to permit a strong defence of the latter.

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