Beyond the harm principle- critical engagement
In Mill’s On Liberty, he describes the harm principle’s purpose of only exercising power over an individual against their will when they are preventing harm from others. He goes on to say that, “In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign (Ripstein 215)”. It is with this statement that Ripstein argue a separate perspective. He believes that if there is a commitment to individual sovereignty, where a person is only answerable to themselves then that should entail that the harm principle be thrown out.
This other perspective he names the sovereignty principle. He goes on to explain that the harm principle wouldn’t criminalize things that needed to be such as violations of equal freedom and his main argument against the Harm principle is this very problem. He believes the sovereignty principle has a more comprehensive understanding of what should be criminalized in comparison to the harm principle.
People who support the harm principle avoid awkward situations by explaining situation in which the harm principle is the only principle that is in conjunction with the situation. The problem with this is there are many situations that are deemed capable of criminalization that cause no harm. Once these differences come to light Ripstein also explains that “it cannot explain the distinctive status that is assigns to harm: why harm matters, when harm matters, or why harm, in particular, would be especially relevant to the criminal law (Ripstein 217). Ripstein uses an argument about a situation in which a person enters your house (doing so without damage to your house) and takes a nap in your bed, this essentially causes no harm to you. You can’t argue for trespassing because according to the harm principle there was no harm done so not criminalzation should occur. However, with the sovereignty principle the nap taken in your house violates your entitlement to exclude the person, rather than the ability to control what happens in your bed.
The sovereignty principle is based on one simple idea and that is that the only legitament restrictions on conduct are those that secure the mutual independence of free people from each other. Ripstein explains that people have powers and there are only two basic ways in which your powered can be interfered with: “by usurping them or by destroying them” (Ripstein 234). They are usurped when i used them for my own being or you use them for my purposes. They are destroyed when you are injured or by “treating their means as though they were theirs to dispose of” (Ripstein).
He goes on to explain how in some cases whether or not harm was caused may not matter because powers can still be used to agree to behaviors within each other and if one person gets hurt or harmed then their powers are gone and the other person in the agreement are not liable for this harm.
The harm principle was looked at as right by so many people, however, Ripstein makes an argument for the sovereignty principle and explains which situations would be deemed appropriate for criminalzation in contrast to the harm principle. I think he made a great argument against the harm principle and made it very clears for his readers to understand why the sovereignty principle is important in order to help themselves.