Front Page Titles (by Subject) Rehabilitating Mill\'s Harm Principle - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Rehabilitating Mill's “Harm Principle” - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Rehabilitating Mill's “Harm Principle”
“A Reformulation of the Harm Principle.” Political Theory 6 (May 1978): 233–246.
John Stuart Mill's famous “harm principle” enunciated in On Liberty (1859) states that we can justify government restraint over an individual's freedom only to prevent harm to others: 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. Mill's harm principle was attacked, beginning with Justice Fitzjames Stephen, on the grounds that we can devise no clear distinction between actions which harm and actions which do not harm others. Do not most human actions affect others. Do not most human actions affect others to some degree? We can, however, resurrect and rehabilitate the harm principle by providing it with an adequate theory. Such a theory would differentiate self-regarding activities (which would be immune to government interference) from those actions which do harm others.
We can reformulate the harm principle once we realize a vital distinction. Although almost all actions affect others, not all actions harm others. The revised formulation would then read as follows: “Prohibitations are legitimate if and only if, necessarily, token actions of the type described in the prohibition cause harm to others.” For example, the prohibition of theft would be legitimate if harm means the invasion of an individual's interest. Legislators must simply provide a list of actions which fall under this principle. For example, in the case of pollution, the law might set standards for clean air so that government would enforce prohibition against the burning of coal only if noxious emissions exceeded a legally defined threshold.